THE HOMEFRONT: America During World War II by Mark Jonathan; Franklin D. Mitchell & Steve J. Schechter Harris

THE HOMEFRONT: America During World War II

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Keyed to a public-TV documentary of the same name: 37 assorted Americans share their WW II experiences--deftly framed and arranged, seldom banal or hackneyed. The main story--in numbers and drama--is the women's story. Or, stories: Marjorie Cartwright, 17 in 1941, married her boyfriend when he came home to Clarksburg, W. Va. on leave and returned to the West Coast with him--for four ""painful, lonely years"" working as a keypunch operator, living in a furnished room, planning for-the-future. But: ""We didn't go back to West Virginia, we didn't build the brick house we had dreamed of, and we never had any children."" (""He came out very disillusioned, very bitter. . . he started drinking heavily. . . I couldn't cope either, because I couldn't understand his problems."" Eventually they divorced. Like others, she speaks of men being ""more emotionally inhibited"" then--but there are also unexpected foreshadowings of Vietnam.) As a serviceman's wife with small children and no family-home to return to (""Women Alone""), Barbara De Nike lived where she could--her son cried to go home, without knowing where he meant; but, when her husband returned (""Homecoming""), ""it was very difficult for him. . . to take on the responsibilities of family and the everyday problems of living."" (Several of the men affectingly say so too.) Whatever the outcomes, many of the women found themselves: DAR country-clubber Inez Sauer by going to work, to the horror of husband and parents, for Boeing: ""Eventually I became chief clerk of the toolroom."" She met ""very superior"" blacks; joined the machinists' union; marched through downtown Seattle; and--in a scene out of a vintage movie--hailed her mother, watching with the president of Seattle's First National Bank. (The shop-floor accounts of male hostility and harassment, on the other hand, have the ring of Studs Terkel--who contributes an introduction.) Among the ""Men of Defense"" is research scientist John Grove, hired-on at the U. of California Radiation Lab: ""Then I asked myself, Well, why are they separating uranium?"" (After perilous, volunteer exposure to radiation, he heard without resentment: ""Well John, you don't have to worry about having any more children. . . for at least ten years."") There are traditional ""minority"" experiences--of Japanese-Americans and blacks. But the themes of mixing and all-pulling-together dominate--with disorientation for some, exhilaration for others, irrevocable change for all. Along with John Morton Blum's superb retrospective V Was for Victory (1977), and a selection of the era's front-runners, it could be a library feature exhibit.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1984
Publisher: Putnam