Even before the United States’ formal entry into World War II in December 1941, the homefront was abuzz with activity — whether it be planting Victory Gardens or knitting more than 5,000 wool socks and sweaters for the British.
Once the U.S. was in the war, Saratoga Springs residents rapidly mobilized — watching the skies for enemy planes, buying war bonds or conducting air raid drills by shutting off all their lights.
“It was an effective demonstration of what a community pulling together can do,” Saratoga Springs City Historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald told about 75 people during a panel discussion Sunday at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Displaying photographs from the period, Fitzgerald painted a vastly different picture of Saratoga Springs — one where the horse racing track was closed from 1943 to 1945 and where residents put out their scrap metal at the curb to recycle it for the war effort. The popular slogan was “Sink a sub. Bring in your scrap.”
“Citizens responded by piling all scrap — brass, iron, zinc and nickel — in front of their homes,” she said.
Saratoga County residents also planted almost 5,700 Victory Gardens, collecting 170,000 bushels of food. Also, more than $4.5 million in war bonds were sold in the county — more than 21⁄2 times the recommended quota.
Skidmore College students also helped out by either joining the service or working as plane spotters or on local farms, according to event moderator Maria McBride Bucciferro.
Other speakers on the panel offered different perspectives on residents’ involvement in the war effort. Eugene Corsale, co-founder of Saratoga County Honor Our Deceased Veterans Program, said the area’s experience with World War II began tragically as two high school girls were killed in 1940. They were part of a group of people crowding the local train tracks to say goodbye to a local National Guard unit called to duty when they were struck by an oncoming train. Several others were injured.
Until the Japanese attack on the United States a year later, Corsale recalled, “no one ever heard of Pearl Harbor.”
Men signed up to get into the war — even lying about their age. Women entered the work force to replace the men who had gone overseas. “It was an employment boom,” he said.
Some women entered the service, whether it be as a nurse or as part of the Women’s Army Corps.
Corsale remembered the delivery man who would give telegrams to families stating that their son had been killed.
“When you see Mr. Duval around your house, you didn’t like him, because that was bad news,” he said.
He also remembered the air raid drills, which required people to shut off the lights in their houses. In addition to being a vital part of civil defense, they offered great excuses for youth.
“If you didn’t get your homework done, you say, ‘the blackout.’ It’s also great if you were over to your girlfriend’s house. We used to call it necking,” he said.
Rationing was also a fact of life. People had to restrict their purchases of food, gasoline and other items. “The idea was we would have to do with less so they could have more,” he said.
Even popular music and fashion were military themed, Corsale said. T-shirts with names of military training facilities were popular, as were songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and “Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen.”
Artists fleeing war-torn countries sought refuge at the artists’ residence Yaddo, according to college public affairs coordinator Lesley Leduc. However, when war broke out, Yaddo had to decrease its number of artists in residence from 36 in 1942 to 17 in 1943 to five in 1944.
“We weren’t able to feed a large group of people anymore because of the war,” she said.
Prominent residents at the time included musician Aaron Copland and international journalist Richard Berman, who died of a heart attack shortly after World War II began, apparently distraught over the German invasion of Poland.
Artifacts on loan from the New York State Military Museum were also displayed at the event.
Also, Wayne Clarke showed excerpts of interviews with veterans. He serves as videographer and coordinator of New York State Veteran Oral History Program of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center.
One veteran who attended the event, Charles Rowley, was serving in the Navy on a ship bound for Okinawa. A kamikaze pilot headed straight for the ship, he said. “We were probably no more than three, four hundred feet where that plane blew up,” he said.
Rowley said he was scared and couldn’t get any sleep while on Okinawa.
“You’d hear rifle shots going off and wonder where they were coming from,” he said.
The World War II homefront experience was summed up by Corsale. “It was an emotional time. There were highs and there were lows and there were tears and there were fears.”