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From the archives: Readers share their memories of the World War II years — They're playing our song

Editor's note: This article was originally published in August 2005 for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

We were a B-17 bomber crew in the 8th force based in England during World War II. There were originally nine of us, and it was our good fortune (almost all of us) to survive 25 combat missions.

Coming back from our first mission I, as radio operator, tuned in to Axis Sally, on a German station, broadcasting American big band music of the day. Part of the broadcast was asking us to land at the nearest German airfield and be treated to a life of joy until the war ended.

Our pilot allowed me to put the broadcast on the intercom and we all enjoyed the music and laughed at their propaganda messages. One of the songs being played was Sentimental Journey, performed by the Les Brown band and sung by Doris Day. On our return from the second mission, the navigator called me on the intercom asking if I could get Axis Sally again. He hoped that in the number of hours on our return to base, they might play Sentimental Journey, which had a special meaning for him. I tuned in the station, they played the song and it became our song as we flew back to base. There were few return trips from missions that we would not hear "our song."

To this day, it is a song we sing when we get together. The voices may not be very strong now, but the feelings for the song and for each other are still there.

— Erwin Harrison, Clearwater

That Sunday changed everything

I was a 10-year-old girl whose favorite pastime was listening to big bands as they played the music people loved. In 1941 the great band leaders dominated the charts, as was evident if you listened to the Hit Parade, as I did, and tried to remember all the words to the songs so I could sing along with them.

On this particular Sunday, I had been to our little country church with my parents and, as usual, we came home and had Sunday lunch: fried chicken, potato salad, corn bread (I don't remember the vegetable we had that day but probably butter beans). Also, we would have blackberry pie or 1-2-3 layer cake, usually with coconut frosting since that was my Dad's favorite.

With full tummies, Mother and Daddy went into the back yard to walk around and talk to our pets. I stayed inside to listen to the radio. Then, when I heard the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, I ran into the yard to tell my parents. They did not believe me at first but came in to listen to the radio. They were so stunned at first; they thought it was a newscaster trying to pull some sort of joke. From that day forward, the spirit of our country was changed. Everyone seemed to want to work together.

— Jean Walker, Seminole

Testing bombs

My mom's parents, the Billinghams, were in Florida when Dad signed up in the Navy. At the time, we lived in Bloomfield, N.J., so my mother, my sister and I moved to Gulfport to be near them in 1944. I was 4 ½ years old.

For the first few months when we got to Florida, we lived at 1528 Preston Ave. S. One day a loud, shaking noise "hit our house," I thought, because the plaster ceiling fell to the floor. Mom tried to explain percussion and its results from testing bombs. I just could not understand why the bomb was not on our floor. Years later, I understood percussion and found out they were testing out in Fort De Soto.

— Danie (Bothem) Huizenga, Gulfport

Operation Dog Track

During the war years, non-essential driving was prohibited because of gasoline rationing, but the military did manage to get to the dog track, regardless. We would drive to an abandoned restaurant parking lot on Gandy Boulevard and from there, we were transported to Derby Lane in a covered wagon pulled by a tractor.

I remember many evenings spent at Derby Lane with my Army husband and military friends.

— Alice Moldenhauer, Clearwater

A date with Dolly

It was near the end of World War II when my very strict, albeit loving, stepfather finally allowed me to date, but only boys who were related to his personal or business friends or relatives. Accordingly, it was with great joy and anticipation that I learned that Donald, the son of one of my dad's business acquaintances, was coming home during the coming Christmas holidays on leave from the Navy, and was going to call me for a date.

When he did call, he informed me that two of his closest friends who were in the Air Force were also going to be home and needed dates, and did I have any girlfriends who could go bowling with us on short notice? It was the holidays and all of my friends had plans, so we were in a dilemma. The boys still wanted to go bowling and decided to ask my dad if I could go with all three of them, inasmuch as he did know the fathers of two of them. To my utter amazement, my extremely patriotic dad said that I could go if I went early and came home early, presuming there would be "safety in numbers." And, after all, these boys were fighting for our country!

With my head held high and a big smile on my face, I proudly marched into the crowded bowling alley, three good-looking, uniformed service boys on my arm, to the envious stares and dagger looks of all the girls who didn't have dates during those war years when men were in short supply.

I will never forget that night over 60 years ago when one pony-tailed "teeny-bopper" in saddle shoes walked two long blocks to a bowling alley with three handsome, uniformed boys on her arm, to play four fun-filled games for five fabulous hours, which included a stop at the malt shop - all with the approval of a very austere father who would do anything for his country, including "loaning" his daughter out for an innocent evening of fun with a sailor and two airmen.

God bless America — and God bless my daddy!

— Dolly Sullivan, St. Petersburg

Tanks filled with treats

It was 1945 in Salzburg, Austria. I was 9 years old and it looked as if World War II was finally coming to an end. These were scary and uncertain times for children. I had often heard adults speak of their hope that "it" would all soon end - indeed, must end. We were hungry and tired; the city had been bombed several times since the fall of 1944.

It seemed as if the days were always gray and sad, and my friends and I spoke of fathers who might or might not return to us. And then came May 5, 1945, and it started like most days, but today would turn out to be oh-so-different!

The radio announced that Salzburg had surrendered to the armed forces and there would be no more fighting. Early afternoon with the sun shining in all its glory, we heard distant rumbling, almost like rolling thunder ... and then came the first American tanks, slowly, almost majestically floating down the Alpenstrasse. What an awesome sight that was and, of course, we had no idea what to expect. Will we be arrested and put in camps, or shot, or how will we even know? So, of course, we stayed behind our doors and just watched and waited to see what would happen to us.

And then the tanks came to a halt and the first one slowly opened its top. There was a soldier in what I now know to be a camouflage uniform and cap with what seemed to be an enormous rainbow on his shoulder, and he gently started tossing handfuls of candy - yes, Hershey bars and Wrigley's gum, and pencils with erasers (a huge novelty for us) and small tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes - into the street. We were hesitant at first, but curiosity got the best of some of the kids and we found out the treats were safe. After that, there was no stopping us, and eventually soldiers came out of their tanks and handed us the candy and other goodies. Our laughter and squeals of delight still ring in my ears as I remember that day.

— Erika Doman, St. Petersburg

High school sweethearts

My husband and I were high school sweethearts, and we decided to get married before he went overseas. We were married three months when his B-24 plane was shot down on Aug. 23, 1944.

From Aug. 23 until Dec. 26, all I knew was that he was "missing in action." I didn't know if he was dead or alive. Finally, the day after Christmas, the government sent a telegram that he was a German prisoner of war. He was in the room where the famous tunnel was dug in Stalag Luft III.

This is a picture of Grover (right) and a fellow roommate holding the German flag that flew over the camp when Gen. Patton liberated them.

Grover wrote, "What a grand and glorious feeling it is to be back under the American flag!"

— Henrietta Blevins, Seminole

"Sentimental Journey"

I was a first sergeant in the Air Force, stationed on Okinawa in 1945. We had heard of this new weapon that would end the war. One evening we were watching a movie. They turned it off, and Armed Forces Radio came on with this announcement: "The Imperial Government of Japan has expressed a desire to surrender!"

At this point, Les Brown and his orchestra came on with Doris Day on the vocal, singing Sentimental Journey. After that, all hell broke loose! We put on our helmets and hit the foxholes. Consequently, every time I hear Sentimental Journey, it reminds me of the night on Okinawa when the surrender was announced.

-- Anthony F. Hanna, Spring Hill

Helping to end the war

I was 20-21 years old when I worked at the Hoover Co. factory in 1943 and 1944 (Rosie the Riveter). I made bomber parts for the atomic bomb carried by the Enola Gay that was dropped on Japan.

After the war, V-J Day, Sept. 2, 1945, I never forgot the headline: Hoover Co. helped end the war. Then I knew I helped end the war. I was so proud. All of Canton, Ohio, celebrated the end of the war all night.

— Daisy Myers, Clearwater

Safe and secure

My brother, Arthur W. Coughlin, was on the ship, the USS DeHaven, that was sunk by Japanese dive-bombers in the South Pacific.

This is a copy of the mail he sent to us to let us know that he was safe. Since he could not tell us where he was or what had happened, he added a P.S. to his note: "Notice the date." That way, he let us know that he didn't go down with the ship.

— Eleanor M. Marro, Spring Hill

From the archives: Readers share their memories of the World War II years — They're playing our song 08/07/15 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2015 11:54am]
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