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Our Rich History: Family memories of life and times on the home front in our region during WW II

By John Schlipp
Special to the NKyTribune

The recent broadcast of Ken Burns’ documentary film, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS 2014), triggered family memories of the life and times of the World War II home front in our region.

I am not old enough to recollect firsthand this proud patriotic period of our country’s history. Vicariously, I lived through both the Great Depression and World War II via the many stories from my parents and grandparents, especially what we now refer to as the World War II home front era. War is a terrible thing. However, I recall how friends of our family who lived through those times, often commented that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, everyone chose to forget the Great Depression and focus on the war effort.

The General Motors’ Frigidaire plant in Moraine (Dayton, Ohio) converted from the making of refrigerators to the manufacture of machine guns during World War II. Shown here, in April 1941 (eight months before Pearl Harbor), is machinery for the making of machine guns.

The General Motors’ Frigidaire plant in Moraine (Dayton, Ohio) converted from the making of refrigerators to the manufacture of machine guns during World War II. Shown here, in April 1941 (eight months before Pearl Harbor), is machinery for the making of machine guns.

I am named for my paternal grandfather from our hometown of Miamisburg, Ohio (a suburb south of Dayton), John Schlipp. He always spoke so highly of Franklin (FDR) and Eleanor Roosevelt. He shared how much FDR’s radio fireside chats were inspirational during the Great Depression, as well as World War II. However, it was his respect and admiration for Franklin’s wife Eleanor, representing Franklin in the field, which he spoke of more often. My grandfather was well aware of the challenges Roosevelt overcame with his polio disability. His son and my uncle, Orville Schlipp, suffered from polio. When Uncle Orv was diagnosed with polio, doctors said that he would not live to see his teen years. Thanks to the support of his family and friends in the community, Orville worked professionally as an accountant and lived more than 70 years. Orville also shared his passions for photography and big band music with me.

My grandfather always spoke highly of the patriotic solidarity of our community during the war. He said that everyone worked together and rarely questioned the war effort. He was too young to serve in the First World War and too old to serve in WWII. However, he proudly supported his country during the war, working at the Frigidaire plant (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ3YZ4foFHk) located in Dayton, Ohio. The factory ceased making refrigerators and produced wartime Hamilton variable-pitch airplane propellers (including those for B-29 bombers) and .50 caliber machine guns (utilized by side gunners of the Flying Fortresses). According to Curt Dalton’s book entitled, Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II (2002), two Dayton factories, Frigidaire and NCR, were awarded the Army-Navy “E” award five times! Dalton’s book claims this successive fifth feat was an all-time record. The “E” pennant awards were only given to four percent of the nation’s factories for going beyond the call of duty.

Aerial view of the Frigidaire Plant in Moraine (Dayton, OH)

Aerial view of the Frigidaire Plant in Moraine (Dayton, OH)

My grandfather told us that when women went to work in factories such as Frigidaire, as men were shipped overseas, he supervised a group of ladies in a paint-finishing department. According to Curt Dalton, women made up 30 percent of the Dayton factory wartime workforce. Unlike most conventionally minded men of the time, my grandfather worked professionally with these women so well, that immediately after the war his department was one of the few that continued to employ women. Some of these postwar women employees at Frigidaire had served as riveters and welders during the war. I believe it was this experience, working with so many “Rosie the Riveters,” which helped my grandfather understand the Women’s Rights Movement of the postwar era, better than most of his male peers. As a long-term employee for Frigidaire from the Great Depression through the 1960s, he always encouraged us to go to college, to work hard at our careers, and to always respect others.

My parents had similar home front stories to share. They were children of the Great Depression, teenagers during the war, and young adults during the prosperous 1950s. They echoed the remarks of my grandfather about the amazing home front patriotism and how everyone worked together to get the job done.

My mother, Delores Schlipp, fondly remembered waiting in line one Christmas season at the Miamisburg city building to get a holiday basket of fruits, which included one fresh Florida orange and some candy canes. This was much appreciated during the war, when many items were rationed.

Delores and Carl Schlipp

Delores and Carl Schlipp

My father, Carl Schlipp, worked part-time during high school at Andy’s neighborhood grocery store in what was known as Reedytown, on the north side of Miamisburg. There were shortages and rationing of sugar, dairy, and meats, and even Coca-Cola® and Pepsi® products. To fill the void, he recalled that Seven-Up® and Dr. Pepper® became popular wartime alternatives.

Another popular substitute (which continued after the war) was margarine spread. However, the margarine introduced during the war was not buttercup-yellow colored. It arrived as a white spread that required mixing an included packet of yellow food coloring to make it look like real butter.

As a child, I used to grow tomatoes, carrots, and other favorite vegetables in my own small garden on my maternal grandparent’s farm. My maternal grandmother, Lucille (Weidner) Null, often compared my modest crops to their Victory Gardens during the home front era. She showed us how to can fresh fruits and vegetables from their farm. I was pleasantly surprised how much I preferred my grandma’s homemade vegetable soup, comprised of all of our garden’s fresh vegetables, contrasted to the bland- tasting, canned Campbell’s® soup of the 1960s.

Perhaps it was my grandparents’ frugality and “never-waste” attitude which reflected the home front era most. My grandfather often reminded us to spend wisely, and to pay ourselves first, by investing our small allowances at the local Farmers and Merchants Bank. He once commented that during the home front era, people “who never saved a penny in their lives,” saved money, because they had an opportunity to buy War Bonds.

John Schlepp, wife Bessie, and son Orville.

John Schlipp, wife Bessie, and son Orville.

Finally, my entire family shared stories of popular culture during the war years, such as the endearing classic radio sitcoms like Fibber McGee & Molly, Jack Benny, the Great Gildersleeve, and Burns & Allen. My father said that every Tuesday night, they laughed again and again as McGee’s hall closet was accidentally opened by one of its cast characters (https://youtu.be/h9FGC68YcwM). As a child of the first television generation, I found it amazing that such entertainment could be conveyed so well without any visual images. To this day, I look forward to hearing classic radio shows and big band music on local WMKV-FM (https://www.wmkvfm.org) radio. Hearing such sounds on WMKV today rekindles the many World War II home front stories shared by my family.

My dear grandparents, uncle, and parents, have all passed away. However, their spirit and the fervor of a bygone home front era can be shared by others who read such gems as the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book recreates the home front era, tracing the evolution of our nation and its character, as it transitioned from the Great Depression into what FDR called a “great arsenal of democracy.”

Our nation’s home front efforts led to our postwar prosperity, creating the most powerful economic and military force in the world. As Kearns so eloquently states near the closing pages of No Ordinary Time, “Indeed, the Roosevelt years had witnessed the most profound social revolution in the country since the Civil War—nothing less than the creation of modern America” (Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time, p. 624). This modern America was affirmed by my grandfather, John Schlipp, who served as an elected councilman in Miamisburg, Ohio for 20 years during the postwar era. Returning war veterans, and those who had contributed to the home front, dedicated themselves to building a postwar community that attempted to bring a better and more peaceful life to future generations.

John Schlipp is an Associate Professor and Intellectual Property Librarian at NKU’s Steely Library. He also directs the Intellectual Property Awareness Center (IPAC) at NKU, assisting everyone from inventors to musicians in becoming aware of their intellectual property. The IPAC is an official Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. See IPAC for details about this free community service.

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One Comment

  1. Shannon Watkins says:

    Hey, I was thrifting recently and found a children’s book belonging to your uncle Orville! I often google names in old books to see what about their life comes up.

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