homepage logo

Shepherdstown residents remember World War II during SAIL luncheon

By Staff | Aug 24, 2018

SHEPHERDSTOWN — World War II wasn’t an easy experience for children growing up during the time of rationing and blackout drills.

But, for many of Shepherdstown Area Independent Living’s members, the memory of their unique childhoods is what brought them together to share their own and their families’ stories during the monthly Brown Bag Luncheon at Trinity Episcopal Church on Friday.

“On Pearl Harbor Day, I was feeling sick and was listening to the radio, when they announced ‘we intterupt this program.’ That was the start of America’s involvement in World War II,” said Edwinna Bernat. Bernat said local government officials believed her home town would likely be one of the first towns to be bombed by the Germans if they invaded the United States, because it manufactured steel.

“The bombs were always something very scary to think about — Johnstown had nine miles of steel mills, so we figured if the Germans came here, we would be bombed,” Bernat said. “In school, we were taught to measure how long it took us to get home from school. If it took us less than five minutes, we were expected to run home if we heard the air raid siren.”

Bernat wasn’t the only SAIL member who experienced the fear of growing up in an industrial town during the war. According to Helen Burns, Detroit’s residents were also taught to be aware of their dangerous position as a factory town.

“We were close to Detroit, and we would have been a target if the Germans came. We had air raid wardens, junior air raid wardens — college kids — and messengers. I was a messenger, and wore a messenger armband,” Burns said, mentioning that children with the messenger’s job were expected to relay messages if the phone system disconnected during an air raid.

Recalling back, many of the luncheon’s ten speakers described how preparing for air raids was a normal part of life for them growing up.

“I remember pulling down the black window shades, so there would be no light showing out from my window,” said Jack Young.

Although Young later had a career in the Navy, he could remember scaring himself with thoughts of the enemy.

“At night, I prayed we would beat Germany and Japan. Frequently, I would frighten myself, and then I would comfort myself by saying, ‘God is on our side,'” Young said, mentioning he later ended up living in Japan during his time in the Navy.

Some of the event’s speakers weren’t old enough to remember life before the war when it started. Joan Fisher, who was born in 1942, grew up without her father, who was fighting in the war.

“For three years, I never knew I had a father, except for stories and songs my mother and grandfather would tell and sing to me,” Fisher said, mentioning her grandmother would sing ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ with the words ‘My Daddy Lies Over the Ocean.’

According to Fisher, the return of her father and birth of a sister soon after confused her. But, despite having to experience such extreme changes in her young life, Fisher said she appreciated growing up during this time period, because it allowed her to grow up surrounded by strong female figures.

“All of these strong women during World War II changed my view of the world, and changed the United States,” Fisher said.