And how it affected Jefferson County

The Great Depression ended 1941 when the US was forced into World War II when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States sided with Britain, France and the Soviet Union against Germany, Italy, and Japan with a tremendous loss of life on both sides. The European part of the war ended with Germany's surrender in May 1945 and Japan surrendered in September 1945 after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.



On December 7, 1941, the Japanese dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor, The Philippine’s, and the Aleutian Islands. The next day, December 8th at 12:30 P.M., President Theodore Roosevelt announced over the radio that the United States had declared war on Japan. At this point the United States officially became a part of World War Two. On December 11, 1941 Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and within an hour The United States responded by declaring war on Germany and Italy.

The people of Jefferson County, New York had been following the war since it had begun. As World War One was still fresh in their minds the fear of another outbreak of warfare was very real to everyone. They had high hopes of being able to stay out of it, but after the attacks this was not possible. Citizens of the North Country were very patriotic people always ready and willing to fight for their freedom and Country.

But the people in Jefferson County who were used to a very quiet and peaceful life would soon start to feel the effects of that fateful day. A very big change in their lifestyle would soon be in effect. All men between the ages of 18 to 60 had to sign up for the draft, they were given a draft number and then awaited to see if their number was to be called up. The names and numbers were randomly pulled out of a large bowl about once a week and were then posted. When the person got notification that their number was picked they then had to pass an exam, if they passed they would then go for basic training. Each village would post the names at various places; which was in the newspaper, the post office, a local store or gas station.

Some men were at first exempt temporarily if they were farmers, had a certain number of dependents, or were married before 1940. Others who were either mentally or physically disabled were exempt. This led to a life of tense waiting and watching.

A large group of young people voluntarily joined and went to serve. Young women also served their county in many ways; some filling the vacate jobs left by the young men and some volunteering and being trained as nurses and even pilots for transporting supplies to the troops. The war was the main topic of conversation and never far from one’s mind.

Enemy aircraft were being spotted flying over California, New York City, Boston and other major cities.

During that time and until the end of the war many changes took place. Gas stations could only be open from 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. Monday through Friday and gas was rationed as to how much could be bought. In 1942 you could no longer buy a new car or tires for your car. Sugar, butter, coffee, tea, lard and many other food products were rationed and other things were hard to find including needles, pins, the rubber rings for canning jars, nutmeg and many spices and imports.

A local woman wrote in her diary on January 10, 1943 that the State Troopers and local police were on the look out for people who were using their gas ration books for unnecessary trips for pleasure, like visiting people on Sundays or just riding. She wrote that if the police stopped you and found that you didn’t have a good reason to be out they would take your ration book away from you. The local woman also writes that the price of beef was on the rise as they had just sold a 2 day old calf at the local auction in Watertown Center for $17.00 where before the war it would have only sold for $1.00. On August 15, 1943 she wrote “Had to get toothpaste in a bottle because I didn’t have a tube to turn in, can’t get any with the war unless you have a empty tube.” She also at this time was painting her legs to make them look like she was wearing stockings.

Jefferson County also participated in air raid and black-out drills. These involved turning all lights off for a couple hours or longer and planes would drop flares over certain cities like Watertown. Some people even hung black curtains up to make sure that if they had a light on it would not show up. No airplanes were allowed to fly at night. The sound of air raid alarms could be heard and schools were ready to shut down on a moments notice. The only weather reports on the radio were if it was extreme because of the war news being broadcasted.

Everyone talked about war or of buying bonds. A few of the most played songs on the radio then were “Pearl Harbor”, “Any Bonds Today” and “Old Mr. Whiskers” - a song about Uncle Sam. War Posters encouraging men to sign up became a familiar sight. Everyone talked about building an air raid shelter in case we were brought under attack again. Even the Brakeshop in Watertown received government contracts and were busy making big guns, weighing about 300 lbs, for the war.

ve_day_1945.jpg
VE Day Celebration, Watertown, May 8, 1945

By the summer of 1945, Germany and Italy had surrendered; which brought the war near an end but with Japan still holding out. President Roosevelt, after being reelected to his third term, had died and his vice president Harry S. Truman had taken over. The people of Jefferson County were finding it hard to buy food for the grocery stores which couldn’t get enough food to keep their shelves stocked, at times meat counters were bare and other times staples and canned goods were hard to get. You could sometimes find what you were looking for in a small neighborhood store instead of the bigger stores and people worried about facing a famine.

On August 14, 1945 at 7:00P.M. President Truman made the announcement “The Japanese had unconditionally surrendered”.

A local woman wrote in her diary on the 15th; “We saw a crowd uptown in Watertown last night when the news came through of Japanese surrender , I’ll never forget how excited a crowd it was. The bottles, flasks and kisses were plentiful, I nearly got kissed by a soldier. My husband and I got out in front of the Woodruff Hotel, the street and sidewalks were so crowded we thought we’d get crushed. So we went into the hotel and it really was a sight I’ll never forget. Happiness was a thing the soldiers found in a bottle and going home was what they all said and so drunk several fell on our car and flung arms in the window at me. They patted my two little girls on the head and gave them a hand full of money.”



{If you have any stories or text about how World War II affected Jefferson County please add it here.}





See also
Jefferson County Timeline
The Great Depression
World War I

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  • Last modified: 2018/12/06 17:17
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