Hoosick Township Historical Society
Memoirs of World War II
By Eleanor M. Stempek
December 7, 1941. It was a Sunday. It was the day we lost so many at Pearl Harbor. It was the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would live in infamy.
I was a member of the senior class at Saint Mary’s Academy (SMA). On that Sunday, along with my family (Dad and Mom: Tom and Catherine Monahan; and my brothers: Tom and Jim), I traveled to Albany to visit Dad’s brother and sister-in-law (John and Julia Monahan) at 1244 Western Avenue. Our return trip was silent and tearful as we pondered the future of our two brothers/sons.
One of my brothers joined the U.S. Coast Guard and the other served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Medusa in the Pacific.
I recall canvassing the classrooms at SMA to sell War Bond Stamps at twenty-five cents each. The stamps were placed in a booklet and, when filled, amounted to $18.75 that would buy a War Bond worth $25 at maturity. Each week we collected quarters and made our purchase at the post office. The pupils at SMA were happy to have made the largest War Bond purchase several times. I also remember picking up yarn at the municipal building from Alice Dewey Dodge of the Red Cross, from which we made socks, mittens, scarves and sweaters for the soldiers, sailors and Marines.
My Dad was a neighborhood air-raid warden. When the whistle blew, he donned his arm band and flash light and set out to be sure all lights were turned off. The lights did not come back on until the “all clear” whistle sounded. Dad worked in the foundry at Noble and Wood Machine Company, which was declared a defense plant. He molded items ordered by the U.S. government. My Mom was the chef and bookkeeper in charge of ration stamps. Blue ration stamps were for sugar, flour and the like, red ones for meat and dairy products, and green for fuel. Nylon stockings were no longer available as the nylon thread was G.I. purchase to make parachutes for our paratroopers. A little white pill in your coffee? No way. I learned to drink mine black. Three strips of bacon or three links of sausage became “one or none” and as popular as “Rosie the Riveter” was, the song “One Meatball” challenged Rosie for first place.
I graduated from SMA in June of 1942, and then attended Troy Business College. We rode the B&M Railroad to Troy, as did the inductees. As we knew most of the fellows, we would continue on to Albany to bid them so long, good luck and bon voyage. On our return one morning we consequently missed our first class but two of our teachers in the elevator with us assured us they could not fault our reason.
When I became aware of the urgent need for clerical help at the Watervliet Arsenal, I applied one day at 9 a.m. and was at a desk figuring out payroll by 1 p.m. the same day as a war appointment. Along with several other young ladies from the area, we commuted to Watervliet either with men who had surpassed the draft age or on Gardener’s bus. The men worked in the gun shops or served as uniformed guards. During the really wild winter months the ladies lived at the YWCA in Troy because the roads were not that well maintained. Most cars did not have heaters, and chains served in the place of snow tires.
The parents of my good friend, Florence Albowicz, ran a “Mom and Pop” store on Clay Hill. When her brother Ray, who delivered weekly orders on Saturdays, was beckoned by Uncle Sam, she got her driver’s license and took over while he served in Europe. No task was too large or too small for Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation”. Another example is the Wood Flong Corporation, makers of matrix paper used by stereotypers in the printing of newspapers. Wood Flong had no authority for exemptions to serve, and consequently Uncle Sam cleared the mill of all draft-age young men. We did have radio but no television (let alone CNN) and so we relied heavily on the newspaper. So as “Rosie the Riveter” replaced the machinist, our ladies (To name a few: Mame Anderson (Ted’s mother), Anna Mullen (John’s mother) and Ruth Rancourt (Ann’s mother)) emerged as excellent wet machine and dryer operators and kept the newspapers supplied so they could publish the progress of our men in uniform.
We planned farewell parties for the deployed troops, engaged our local noted to present and laud, and held most of the parties at Saint Stanislaw Hall where there was no rental fee. (The hall set the price for others.) When we had spare moments from our work, we wrote letters to our boyfriends, brothers, neighbors and all acquaintances who bravely endured severe hardships for us. With our letter writing accomplished, we would meet at Pete Seward’s Ice Cream Parlor on John Street Saturday nights and call Nat Case to taxi us to either Crestwood or the Merry-Go-Round for an evening of dancing to the nickelodeon. However, due to gas rationing and wartime regulations, our driver would drop us off short of our destination.
Our men and women left warm homes, great meals and loving parents, wives, sweethearts and friends to survive and fight in foreign lands, swamps and mountains for us. As they asked for no recognition (nor did we) we prayed together, worked together and mourned together. This qualified us for Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation.”
How we dreaded the government telegrams! “Clay Hill Against the World” was proven too many times as we lost such heroes who made the supreme sacrifice including Barney Zilinskas, Walt Saluzas, John Yavaniski, Edward Kalinowski, Frank O’Neil and Stanley Urban.
In the early forties we watched and waved as the troop trains rolled through our village destined for Boston’s Camp Miles Standish or the Port of Boston. Later, the shades were drawn and we realized the slogan “loose lips sink ships” was more than a slogan. It was a reality.
Our churches were mobbed during those years. We begged, acclaimed and mourned but we on the home-front placed our faith in God, in all religions. It may be challenged that we were the “greatest generation” but we do deserve the title “a great generation”.
P.S. In your prayers, remember Bernie Graney, Jimmy Archer and Whitey Betner for, believe me, they with all their comrades truly were “the greatest generation.”