One Man's Opinion


The War


My sister, Barbara Henderson wrote a history of the World War II years in three chapters some number of years ago to have a record for her children and grandchildren so they would learn how things were during that time.  I have taken several excerpts from those files and added them in Italics to this edition of Life in the 20th Century.

 As soon as The Congress voted to declare War on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States forming what we called the Axis Powers. As confident as our government voiced statements that America would be able to defeat the Japanese, Germans, and Italian military, most of the news we received was not good.  Our Commanding General in the Pacific was General MacArthur. He directed the defensive battle of the South Pacific and Philippines for about three months until being evacuated from the fortress island of Corregidor under the cover of darkness March 12,1942.  General Wainwright took over high command of the defenses.  The persistence and valor of our marines, naval and army personnel on Corregidor was the one positive image we had during those terrible months of early 1942.  Further territory was invaded and overwhelmed in the months leading up to the fall of Corregidor.  But as long as we held out, we had something to cheer for. In May of 1942 General Wainwright sent two soldiers out with a white flag and surrendered to the Japanese.  The months following were grim as we heard of Japanese victories over more of the South Pacific.  But on August 4, 1942, the U.S Marines landed a small force on the Island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island Group.  The Guadalcanal campaign was a significant strategic offensive of combined arms effort l eading to eventual victory in the Pacific theater. Along with the Battle of Midway, it has been called a turning point in the war against Japan. As I was wrapping and loading my papers one morning in 1942, I looked at the headline which was, “Crossing the T”.  I was curious what that meant and read the article which described the Battle of Cape Esperance, the first United States night naval battle victory over the Japanese. A U.S. force of cruisers and destroyers under Admiral Norman Scott crossed the “T” of a cruiser–destroyer force under Aritomo Goto.  Gotō’s force was approaching Guadalcanal on October 11, 1942 to bombard Henderson Field in support of  a reinforcement mission when it was surprised and defeated by Scott’s force in a confused night battle. Goto died of his wounds shortly after the battle, and lost the cruiser Furutaka and 3 Destroyers.  I was so excited to learn finally of a victory over the ‘Japs‘ even though I didn’t entirely understand how this crossing of the T made it possible.

Our lives on the home front changed considerably regarding food and necessities.  No one argued that the armed forces did not need these items.  Those men were sacrificing their lives.  The most we had to do was rearrange our lives to use the amount of food and goods in the best way. The Office of Price Administration was formed in 1941 to control civilian supply of foods and materials. At first the concentration was on raw materials, but later Ration Boards were set up in every county and manned by vollunteers.  A ration book was issued to every man, woman, and child in the U.S.   The books had little stamps in them.  The first item that was rationed was sugar.  Every person was allowed 8-12 ounces per person per week.  Unless you did a lot of baking, this was enough for the average family.  If you took sugar in your coffee and tea, you had to change your habits.  Some people turned to substitutes like corn syrup.  By summer, it was necessary to ration coffee.  This amounted to 1 pound of coffee per person every five weeks.  Again, it was manageable if you were an average drinker but care needed to be taken not to waste the coffee. By 1943 the ration book contained rows of red and blue stamps marked A, B, C, D.  Blue stamps were for processed foods, Red stamps were for meats, cheese, and fats.  There was a point system to account for the discrepancy in price.   Housewives saved all the grease from cooking and turned it in to the butcher in exchange for red stamps.  Everyone who could had a” victory” garden.  The more vegetables grown at home the better meals you had because with the “Relocation” of the Japanese from California (who produced 40% of the vegetable crops), a vegetable shortage was created.  They were no longer available to do that at which they were the best.  Many people also had chickens in their back yard.

 In addition to raising certain vegetables in our victory Garden, I got my mother to buy 4 or 5 bantam baby chicks at a poultry feed store and I built a hutch in our back yard so that we would have some fresh eggs from time to time.  I was curious how the chicken would lay an egg and sometimes abandon it and other times sit on it for hours at a time.  I wanted to have them lay eggs for eating and to have the hen and rooster fertilize some of the eggs so we might increase the flock.  When one of the hens became broody, I fixed up a box in my bedroom and placed the hen in the box with a straw nest along with four or five eggs.  I covered the box and   placed a 60-watt light bulb through the top of the box to keep the eggs and the hen warm.  This was a very bad idea.  After a week or so when they hatched I continued sleeping next to this box and tending to the chicks.  I cleaned up the mess caused by droppings and other matter, but the next thing I knew was that I was in a hospital room with a nurse tending to me.  What had happened during the meantime was that I had contracted Spinal Meningitis, a very serious and death threatening disease.  I was in the Contagious Disease Ward at the LA County Hospital.  I felt terrible but due to the fast diagnosis by our family doctor. What he did to make the diagnosis was to place his hand under my neck and when he lifted my head, my whole body rose stiff as a board.  After a couple of brief telephone calls, he convinced one ambulance company that by wrapping me in sheets, they had no potential danger from the disease. There followed a speedy trip in the ambulance to LA County CD Ward.  After two or three days, I was awake after receiving huge injections of antibiotic sulfonamide (sulfa), a relative of penicillin discovered in 1928 but not commonly used until 1942.  For three days, I had been given massive injections of Sulfa, and was just coming out of a coma.  I was later transferred to a ward with 6-8 other patients in some stage of recovery.  The disease usually causes the loss or deficiency of some part of the cognitive, physical, or sensory capabilities.  I was one of the lucky ones who, perhaps questionably, had no ill effects after 45 days of care in the CD Ward. During my stay, every 3 days I was wheeled to a surgical room in which the doctor would tap my spinal fluid to check its condition.  Not a pleasant experience.  Upon release, the doctor advised my folks to not have me return to school but for the remaining months of the Spring school year and Summer to spend as much time as possible in the outdoors (sans chickens) especially participating in some sport.  As disappointing as that instruction was, my folks decided that Dad would take me to the Griffith Park golf course on the way to work and I would spend the day playing the unlimited number of holes allowed by the $5.00 monthly Green Fee.  He would then pick me up on the way home. It was a tough life as you can imagine.

One of the things we enjoyed doing at that time to get around during the period of gasoline rationing was a ride on the Pacific Electric Street-Car. Powered by overhead trolley pole riding along on an electric powerline, these trains ran on a vast network of tracks that went from San Bernardino, to San Pedro, to San Fernando connecting all the communities in between.  For ten cents, you could travel as far as you wanted within each fare zone. Each car had a motorman and a conductor.  After school, I would sometimes take this train down to Hollywood and hang around in my dad’s typewriter shop.  He had a young man who he was training to be a typewriter repair man.  Whenever he would speak to my dad, he would call him “coach”.  After a while I started to use the nickname also and for the rest of his life, I always addressed my dad as coach, a proper thing to do since he was my lifelong adviser in so many things.

 A little bit of history: In 1919, My grandfather, Merrill Brewer, who lived with his wife and son, my dad, in Bar Harbor Maine, accepted an offer to move to Southern California and open a franchised Corona office machine store.  With a pioneer spirit, he loaded his wife and son into a used touring sedan and began a 3-month journey driving across America in a used Franklin automobile eventually settling in Hollywood California. My Dad, 14 at the time learned a lot about how to deal with difficulties on that trip as it was made long before there were real highways connecting the east and west coast. Although a good student, he left high school after the 11th grade, and went to work in my grandfather’s typewriter shop on Hollywood Blvd.  In 1926, he and my mother got married and he began a new role in his father’s business as the principal outside salesman. In 1938, Merrill Brewer retired and my dad, the Coach, took over the shop. 

When the War started, Pop realized early on that with no new typewriters being manufactured, he would be out of business also.  However, he figured out that he could rent used typewriters from wholesalers at $5 per month per typewriter and re-rent them for $10 to the studios and the defense industries (The birth of the middleman). At one point, he had over 1000 machines out under lease. This not only made it possible for him to stay in business but enabled him to develop an active contract repair service and increase his related stationary and supplies business. It not only enabled him to stay in business but provided a platform for continuing the leasing of typewriters and adding machines business after the war. The studio relationships also led him to expand into the Art supply business and it became a fast-growing part of his gross sales after the end of the war (very high margins).  (But more on that in future chapters.)

 Dottie’ life in Kentucky during the early 1940s was pretty much the same as everywhere else.  Become more self-reliant by growing more of the food you ate, save everything useful in the war effort and pray a lot.  In fact, they got most of their news about what was going on in the war effort while attending social events at the church. Of course, there were a lot of rumors going around, most of them telling something not true about what was happening in the war. She lived most of the time at Mrs. Webb’s since it was closer to Saint Vincent Academy, the Catholic school she was attending.  The Nuns held Catechism classes every day but on Thursday the priest would come in and talk and ask us if anyone had any questions for him.  Since they were all in that middle teen-age area, and were sensitive to and curious about what the church said was consistent with the rules of proper behavior when dating a boy.  One of the serious questions was, “is it a sin to kiss a boy when he brings you home from a date?”  This brought numerous chuckles and a smile to the priest’s lips as he answered that it was not a sin unless it went too far.  He told them in clear words repeated by nuns and parents what too far was.  We really didn’t date like most kids do in today’s world. While popular music was enjoyed by all, Teenagers in our day would go to a popular youth club called “The Barn” each Saturday night and have nothing heavier than a Coca-Cola or a milk shake to drink with a hamburger or hot dog..  The Club was run by one of towns respected families and the rules were very strict. The popular activity was to dance what was called the “Jitterbug style.  Dottie took dancing lessons from the time she  was about 8 years old and she told me “even if I say so myself, I was a pretty good dancer, so I never had to sit waiting to be asked to dance”.


One of the amazing phenomena’s that occurred during the 1930s and 1940s was the growth in the card game of Contract Bridge. It became the central activity for socializing among couples and people unable to afford or attend other types of entertainment.  Mrs. Webb ran a bridge club at her home every Tuesday and Thursday.  Dottie told me “I suppose this is where I got the seed of motivation for learning how to play this game. When they had one of the ladies unable to attend, Mrs. Webb would sit me down on a book or two and with some help from others I slowly learned the fundamentals of the game. Being a small-town, Waverly or Morgantown didn’t have much entertainment for young people.  I mean it was a big day when we got to go over to a school chums home with elegant design and furnishings.  We rode bicycles all over the County and would spend hours dreaming about the outside world.  One day I just knew I would get the chance to travel to the state of California”.

Next time we will share some interesting times ending the World War II


One Man and his Wife’s opinions—

Bud and Dottie Brewer









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