Memories and Musings: WWII – A darkened village

Published 6:06 am Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The times are often that the young and the experienced view the same event so differently that memories can be seen as either a blessing or a curse depending on one’s age. Such is the case with my childhood memories of WWII Air Raid Drills in the tiny village of East Rochester, New York. 

With the war raging and the village emptied of most of its young men and many of its young women serving in branches of the military, the roles for children “playing war” were divided equally among American military heroes and our overseas wartime enemies. Movies, radio programs, literature and even some cartoons bulged with the exploits of wartime heroes in battle and in supporting roles on the home front. 

More recently, many recall participating in “Duck and Cover” drills in school; but few of us remember the total darkness of a WWII Air Raid Drill that my elementary-aged peers found exciting — even fun — that our parents viewed with fear and trepidation. 

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The drills were meant to be spontaneous and hush-hush, but in our village where everyone knew everyone else, the word would get out about when to expect the siren from the car shops to signal: “There’s gonna be a drill tonight!”

Following the siren’s piercing scream, the village was instructed to go completely dark, to make itself unseen and unrecognizable to flying enemy aircraft. Uniformed Air Raid Wardens — ours was a family cousin — prowled their assigned area with low-beam, colored flashlights to check every house and establishment for any source of light, electric or otherwise. They would knock on doors of any homestead they found non-compliant. Every window’s shades, drapes, or blinds had to be down or drawn. (My job was to pull down the shades in my bedroom.) Anyone caught on the street had to find their way home without streetlights or lighted signs, minus even the light from a match or the glow from a cigarette. I remember being huddled in the darkened living room with my mom, dad, and grandparents listening to the radio and awaiting the all-clear siren that returned the village to the “normal” of the war years. 

Those memories of gas rationing, meals from the Victory Garden, War Bonds and Air Raid Drills still resonate at quiet times, when long-gone loved-ones sat quietly and grimly in the darkened living room. While I, probably in my mom’s arms, grinned at the excitement of it all. 

Unfortunately, in today’s world of challenges, one wonders if we have not only lost our ability to manage our disagreements, but also, our ability to manage even our agreements.