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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Great Depression and Hard Times Part I

My dad grew up during the Great Depression. The Great Depression happened after the Stock Market crashed in October 28, 1929. There were reports of stock brokers and wealthy businessmen jumping off of high buildings because of lost fortunes. Stock Market investors during the late 1920s bought on margin, paying only 10 to 20 percent of their own money. It was a very risky strategy, but investors were very confident. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average crashed, the US economy went into a tailspin.

 If you had money in a bank, all of your savings were gone, because banks could no longer pay account holders. When there is no money in savings banks, loans can not be made for homes and businesses. The economy can not grow and people lose jobs. At this time, banks did not insure deposits. Homes were subsequently lost and farmers suffered, plunging many Americans into abject poverty. If you did not have a job, how could you pay for food, your medicine, your clothing, etc? America was in dire straights, and the entire psyche of the country was demoralized.

                                                    Soup kitchen during the Great Depression

The homeless and poor did not have safety nets such as welfare, food stamps, or unemployment benefits like today. Some people lived in camps called "Hoovervilles", camps set up for the homeless. Herbert Hoover was President at the time and he believed in the "Trickle Down Theory". The Trickle Down Theory meant that the very wealthy would stimulate the economy and the rest would "trickle down to the poor". Sadly, the American economy would take many, many years to recover.

                                                       Hooverville: American Shanty towns
                                                                    Source: Project World Awareness

I sometimes look at stark photographs of residents from Appalachia, barefoot and dirty. I study the furrowed brows of African Americans in the rural South, who already had it bad because of social policies and no jobs. Folks sold apples on corners, pencils, odd jobs, and yes even begging, doing whatever they could  do to survive.

If you ever had the pleasure of knowing someone who had lived during these times, you would be amused at their beliefs and how they view money. For example, my dad always insisted in having a refrigerator that was full. He never likes to see an empty refrigerator. His generation always believed in saving for a rainy day. Lights off when not in use. Short showers and limited clothes washing in hot water. Many decades later,  I once poured ketchup on a hamburger. Instead of waiting in "anticipation", like the old Heinz Ketchup Commercial, the ketchup flew out, a bland mixed concoction of tomato sauce. Dad struck often, stretching food, and cleaning supplies.

When it was time to pay bills, I learned real early to disappear. ESPECIALLY during the cold winter months in Connecticut, because our house required expensive heating oil. For most of my family's life, we were considered a working middle class family. Dad was a long time factory foreman, and sometimes worked overtime and Saturdays. He surprised me with an upright piano, and I would get money for shopping trips. In junior high, both my brother and I went on week long school field trips to Cape Cod and Washington, D.C. School lunches were paid in cash, not free or reduced tokens. Every two weeks I traveled to Downtown Hartford, to Soul Scissors, the  once popular hair salon chain that catered to African American Hair. Soul Scissors were always located in an upscale department store, complete with continuous disco music and attractive stylists that swore by Revlon Relaxers.  Best believe I earned all of these rewards through chores, grades and behavior.


                                                                  Former Nationwide upscale beauty salon

And then a recession occurred, and Dad no longer worked in the factory......

 Fast forward to June, 2012. I was watching of the large contingency of Montford Point Marines who hailed from Detroit, The Motor City, triumphantly boarding their plane after the Congressional Medal of Honor Activities. I was wondering how many of them achieved the American Middle Class Dream and were employed at Ford, General Motors or Chrysler?  I watched these elderly man as they chatted animatedly, trading long stories with their sharp Montford Point Marine Association hats, with " Detroit" stitched on the side in white. How many of them raised children, grand-children, put kids through school, taught school, and prospered in  successful careers? Many are / were definitely leaders in their community, because, face it, Montford Point Marines had presence.

                                                                       Middle Class Dream

I listen to people today bemoan the current Recession, (the worst recession since the Great Depression) with their smart phones, cable, expensive shoes and complain about this or that. When I catch myself complaining and commiserating I stop myself. I think about others less fortunate. I am thankful for the people who truly care about me and have my best interests at heart. For it could be considerably worse.

                                                                     This sign says it all.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Medal of Honor Winner Senator Daniel Inouye Dies

On December 19, 2012, the second longest serving Senator in Congress passed. He was the Honorable Senator Daniel Inouye (D, Hawaii). I am discussing him because of his similarities between his experience as a Japanese American soldier during WWII and African American soldiers.

                                        The late Senator Daniel Inouye, Medal of Honor Receipient

Senator Inouye was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1924,  the son of Nisei Japanese American immigrants. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, ushering America's entry into WWII. At the time of the bombing, Senator Inouye was a medic volunteer. It was not until two years later that Congress authorized the help of the Japanese Americans in the war effort. Previously they were not allowed to enlist.

In World War II Inouye  lost an arm changing machine gun nests in San Terenzo, Italy, earning him a Medal of Honor. During his recovery  in a military hospital he befriended his Sargent, Former Senator Bob Dole, (R, Kansas), who also has a permanent injury. Their friendship obviously spanned many decades, as do special  life-long friendships and bonds between Veterans of War.

Former P.O.W. (Prisoner of War) and Senator John McClain (R, Arizona) stated  that "Inouye's unit was in the most gruesome and difficult blood lettings of the entire conflict". His battalion was the most decorated unit of the war. Senator Inouye was third in line of succession to the US Presidency behind Vice President Biden and House Speaker John Boehner.

The Newlands Resoulution was used to annex the Republic to the United States and it became the Territory of Hawaii in 1898. Later, in March 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act. President Eisenhower signed it into law allowing  Hawaii to became the 50th state. The United States' Current President, President Barack Obama (2008-Present;) was born in Hawaii, an issue that has been quite contentious with a movement called "The birthers". The birthers strongly believe that President Obama was born overseas and therefore ineligible for the US Presidency, per Constitution. President Obama produced his Hawaiian Official Birth Certificate before his second term in order to stop the distractions from real issues.  Birthers still believe that he was born in another country.

                                                  Sign At Japanese Internment Camp

On CBS News, the late Senator Inouye described being discriminated and called a "Jap", or mistaken for Chinese. He was constantly insulted to his face, while in uniform, just  like my father was as a Montford Point Marine. Many Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps during WWII in large numbers. The US apologized for its race based discrimination against Japanese Americans and were given reparations*, four decades later.

Senator Innoye served honorably as an Army Veteran and a Congress.  He was a integral part in the Watergate Hearings of the 1970's and the Iran-Contra Hearings in the 80's. The late Senator was described as " being the one to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus and hold those of us in government to the people we were elected to serve." -President Obama, at his funeral.

Senator Inoye was the embodiment of a true hero, typical of a Medal of Honor Winner. He served bravely in battle and with dignity in Congress. He lived to be eighty-eight years old.

*Nisei:  American born Japanese

**Some Japanese Americans died in the camps due to inadequate medical care and the emotional stresses they encountered.(Source, PBS)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another Senseless Tragedy

Dear readers, I am deeply sorry for the the delay in my posting about Montford Point Marines. My eighty nine year old father, a prostrate cancer survivor, had some complications along with  pneumonia and was hospitalized. He will be home today. Semper Fi, dad.

 I was also troubled by the senseless and horrific carnage of twenty children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The massacre is considered the worst in US History and weighed heavily on my mind, as I used to be an elementary school teacher in my home state.

                                                           Source: Newtown Bee, CT Post

Post Columbine and especially after 9/11, schools were mandated to practice lock down procedures in order to  prepare for emergencies. Teachers were giving code names and if something "went down", we were alerted over the intercom. Doors had to be locked, lights out, and children were to huddle under desks, silently. There would always be a student who would giggle and not take it seriously, and I would quickly reprimand the student for being silly.

School children in previous decades had drills during wartime, and schools were designated as fallout shelters in the event of an atomic bomb. Some of you  might remember the bright yellow and black signs. Additionally, the President of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev in 1962  installed nuclear missiles ninety miles away in Cuba, an ally of the former U.S.S.R. (Now called Russia). President John F. Kennedy and Cabinet members had some intense negotiations with Soviet leaders for thirteen days and the missiles were removed. The American Public had been informed that military action would be taken if the missiles were not removed. It was a very scary crisis that was fortunately avoided.

                                                         Department of Defense, Circa 1961

Mall shootings. Movie Theater killings.Virginia Tech massacre. We live in a world where we have to be vigilant. It is imperative to  appreciate your children, loved ones, first responders, soldiers, teachers, parents, social workers, clergy, etc. and realize that violence can happen in a small peaceful town in New England, in the early hours of a naval base in Hawaii, and in the financial district of of a major world city.

How do you make sense of all this?

Friday, December 7, 2012

"A Day of Infamy"

Headline of the day. "Japs" is now considered a derogatory term.

                                                      President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933

December 7, 1941 was a day that America will never forget. It was the attack of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Japanese.The attack came without warning in the morning hours and hundreds of soldiers on naval vessels were killed. Bombs were dropped out of enemy planes.  Americans were  shocked and stunned; this type of destruction and loss of life had never occurred on American soil by a foreign country.

 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress immediately declared war, and the U.S. entered World War II against the Axis Powers of Japan and Germany. A sad and tragic day, where the phrase," A Day Of Infamy" was coined by FDR to convey the outrage and sadness.

What else do you know about Pearl Harbor?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Jim Crow and Segregation


Can you imagine living your entire adult life making a sacrifice for your country and not even being acknowledged? Some people get upset when they hold open the door for someone and they don't even get a thank you. Or when driving, a driver might let another car enter in front of them in traffic. Where is the courtesy wave, you might ask? The door and driving incidents are slights that one can basically brush off. But putting your human life on the line is pretty serious. The thousands of African American who enlisted in the Marines during the 1940's did so willingly, and my father insisted that he wanted to serve as a soldier in combat.

What is also interesting to note is that the United States had Jim Crow Laws, which were laws that prohibited Blacks from living in certain neighborhoods, to work in certain occupations, or to eat in restaurants. Segregation was the law of the land and water fountains, rest rooms, movie theaters, schools, buses, and trains insured that races were kept apart. Interracial marriages were illegal and a Negro could be arrested if they broke these laws. Jim Crow Laws were intense in the South, where slavery had a stronghold. The South was considered the area of the country below the Mason- Dixie in Maryland. Northern states, which did not allow slavery had discrimination as well, but the discrimination was less intense, covert and subtle.

When discussing Jim Crow with my students, many of them wondered why Blacks were treated so badly during these times. I would explain that in order to enslave someone, you had to make them feel inferior. You  had to make sure that their living conditions were substandard, and not allow them to read or congregate. Families were separated. Rules were established to make Negros "know their place". Tragically, Negros were beaten if they did not obey their slave masters.

The Civil War (1861-1865) was fought to preserve the country, because Southern states seceded over the issue of slavery. Enslaved Africans provided free labor for wealthy Southern plantation owners. Blacks worked long hours picking cotton and farming, creating a thriving economy. Enslaved Africans often tried to escape slavery by fleeing to the North. Sophisticated networks and codes were enabled to outsmart slave owners and slave catchers. Both Northern Blacks and Whites participated in the Abolitionist Movement, a movement that included women to officially end slavery. Once the Civil War ended and slaves were free, the same Segregation Laws persisted. Montford Point Marines were/are descendants of enslaved Africans. Such were the conditions that many of Montford Point Marines grew up in: discrimination and Jim Crow.

                                                           " Separate But Not Equal"                      

But despite this, Montford Point Marines signed up to be a recruits. They signed up and served their country even though they were treated like second class citizens. The Montford Point Marines were some of the  brightest African American men selected.  According to my dad, he loved his dress blue Marine Uniform. He was proud to wear it when he returned to Florida, but it was challenging to wear the heavy wool jacket in the humid weather!  He wore it during a visit  home in July, parading his uniform up and down Second Avenue in Daytona.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rusty Knife

 As a young girl of seven I recall my father telling my twin brother and me stories of being in World War II. One day he showed us a rusty knife and our eyes widened in fear. So this what being a soldier meant, I thought: having weapons like knives and guns. Before some of you readers question my father's reasoning in displaying the knife, you have to consider the times. Kids during these times played "Cowboys and Indians" and "Cops and Robbers". It was nothing for a ten year old male to have a BB gun or a slingshot.

Children were seen and not heard and particularly Southern, African American fathers, instructed and demonstrated. Lessons and history were constantly discussed and we learned about hard times during the Great Depression and how my father's family survived. We also visited poor neighborhoods in Hartford, Ct's North End during the seventies. These excursions were for us to be grateful for what we had.

I discovered forty years later that the knife that my father showed us was a weapon seized from a Japanese soldier. The government, according to a Montford Point Marine historian, did not want it known that the Japanese surrendered to Black soldiers. Furthermore, during WWII Japanese Prisoners of War received better treatment than the Black African soldiers.

                                                                                  Captured Japanese 

And the knife that shocked me as a little girl in pigtails? It was stolen during a a break in at my father's Florida home.Many items donated from MPMs are displayed in the Montford Point Marine Museum  located in North Carolina.

I think the rusty knife, lectures and encyclopedias led to my interest in history. If you wanted information on a subject you would go to your set of encyclopedias or library back then. But keep in mind Montford Point Marines would not be included....


Saturday, November 24, 2012


Hello all! This is my first post about the Montford Point Marines and  I decided to keep it brief. It is the day after Thanksgiving and I am at my parents house in Connecticut. When you walk into our split level home it is like entering a shrine, because my father is a Montford Point Marine and he received a Congressional Medal of Honor in June of 2012. Inside our living room besides the stacks of Jet and Ebony Magazines, VFW, (Veterans of Foreign War) there are special items in glass cases and frames. There is his special United States Flag, and  letters from our House of Representatives and one of our Senators. There is another official letter from the US Speaker of the House as well. Photos of my dad are displayed, along with the red, white and blue ribbon that held his Medal of Honor. The actual medal is in a safe deposit box ( My father is no fool.)
Did you know it is a felony to steal a Medal of Honor from a recipient? I also posted an image of the medal; bronze replicas are available from the US Mint  from collectors. Some of you are curious about the Montford Point Marines so as a regular reader to this blog you will be privy to my information. Happy Holiday Season!

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