Resident Writer: Barbara Delouise
When I was growing up in North Carolina during World War II, as soon as school was out for the summer, my mom took me to the shore in New Jersey where we joined up with her sister and her family to spend the summer in a family cottage on a little island in Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. The naval base at nearby Lakehurst, New Jersey, sent out a young sailor to operate a new device called radar on an empty space near our cottage. Radar was a new technology that allowed whoever was operating it to scan the bay surrounding our cottage, and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond, for enemy German submarines that were operating all up and down the east coast of America, sinking merchant ships that were carrying wartime supplies to England from U.S. ports along the Atlantic.
From the Lakehurst Naval Base also came blimps that patrolled the Atlantic coast, looking for German submarines. In the bay right in front of our cottage, these Coast Guard blimps practiced dropping depth charges against enemy submarines that might be lurking in nearby waters. On other missions the blimps pulled targets for target practice by naval aviators from the nearby Naval Air Station. Can you imagine how exciting it was that all these activities were taking place on the water right in front of our cottage!
During World War II all homes and businesses near the coast were required to have “blackout curtains” on their windows at night, so their lights could not be used by enemy German submarines to help guide them or to silhouette merchant ships carrying supplies along the Atlantic coast. Neighborhoods had “wardens” to enforce the rule about darkened windows. In addition, gasoline was rationed for civilian use because the armed services needed fuel in large quantities for the war effort. As a result our family “saved” its gasoline coupons—in effect by limiting its use of gasoline—so that from time to time we could visit my brother who was stationed at a military base in a neighboring state.
Sugar was rationed to civilians, and I seem to also remember that butter was rationed, as was gasoline, rubber, and metal items. So my mother saved up our food stamp allowances in order to make a cake before going to visit my brother wherever he was stationed. And of course, we had to save our gasoline allowance as well in order to travel during the war. One of my grandmothers lived several states away, and so, instead of driving there during the war, we had to take a train to see her, which seemed a great adventure. Mama would pack us a “picnic lunch” to eat during our train trip which seemed a treat to me as a child. However, one summer during the war, when Mama could not take time off from her job in order to make the annual summer visit to see Grandmother, Mama packed a “picnic” lunch for me to eat on the train. She had the station master flag down the train in order for me to get aboard the train in our home town in North Carolina, and she spoke with the train’s porter to be sure to place me in a seat by a window so that I could be entertained during my travel, and she requested that the porter “keep an eye on me” during this trip north to Delaware. I still marvel that she entrusted me to the care of the porter, having obtained assurances that he would see me safely off the train in Wilmington, Delaware, where an aunt would be waiting to pick me up. And so I set forth in my first adventure of solo travel, with faith that all would proceed as planned, and above all trusting to the kindness of the strangers who were my travel companions.