Oral Histories

By Scott Salamango

Floyd Calkins

He isn't a veteran of the war. He doesn't tell death defying stories of survival in the jungles of Manila. He did tell me once that he was acknowledged by Ripley's Believe It Or Not for striking out seven batters in one inning of a baseball game (his catcher dropped strike three on four occasions in the inning allowing the runners to advance). But he is a proud man who feels that he did his job as an American during World War II and appreciates the job his friends and fellow Americans did to maintain the American way of life.

I was born in Pennsylvania in 1911, the son of a street car conductor. There was no good work where we lived, so in 1917, my father packed up the family and sought a future in Detroit. My dad got a job at Continental motors making engines for automobiles.

I was married to Katherine in 1935, she too a Pennsylvania native who moved to Detroit. I worked in a grocery store for awhile and then at Ford Motor company in Detroit, but only to pass time until I got hired by the Detroit police department. I was hired by the department in May of 1936 and retired in 1961 after twenty five years of service.

I was at the corner of Woodward and Bethune in Detroit when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I was working out of the 9th precinct as part of the accident prevention bureau. We (my partner and I) would only work on auto accidents and issue tickets to people who were in accidents. The only time we would work a regular beat was if there was a shortage of other police officers who normally would work a certain beat (which sometimes happened because due to the war there was often a shortage of beatmen). The news came over the squad car radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. We knew that Japan had been at war with China for a few years, but that didn't bother us; they were on the other side of the world. It was rumored that they (the Japanese) were going to attack, but the media didn't make a big deal out of it. According to stories I've read since, Japanese ambassadors in the United States were talking about peace when all along they knew they were going to attack. I immediately began to wonder if I was going to have to leave my wife and daughter and fight the Japanese.

I was drafted in the middle of 1942 along with twenty five or thirty other police officers in my precinct. I, and they, were scared. I didn't want to leave my family, because I wasn't sure I'd make it back to see them again. Then I received word that my draft notice was going to be deferred. The government was trying not to take the men with wives and children, but more importantly, someone had to stay home and police the people. Some of the other men in my precinct received deferments as well, like my partner. He was also married and had two children. He was sure that due to his past experience in the Navy (a four year service years earlier), he would be recalled, but he wasn't.

A lot of my friends from the force were sent though. Many were MP's (military police officers) because of their experience with the force. Others were bomber pilots. Others just fought. I received letters from a few of them, usually a month or two after they had written them. They always had black marks on them from where the censor had crossed out words. The letters from my friends in the air corps always came back sooner because they would be stationed at air bases for long periods of time. The other letters were delayed longer because the soldiers were constantly on the move.

At home things were different. I felt bad for my friends that were fighting, but I was happy that I still had a job that was needed and I could support my family. Everyone had a feeling of pride towards our country during the war, because almost everyone who wasn't fighting knew someone who was, or they were working for the cause on the homefront. The Continental motor car company that my father had worked at was making bomber engines and others were making other parts to planes, or boats, or whatever was needed. I felt like I was doing my part with my job. The police were needed because without them, many people would have probably taken advantage of the situation.

Overall, we were confident that we would win the war because we had so many people working together. We were more concerned with the Japanese than the Germans. The Japanese were the one's that attacked us so we had a score to settle with them. The British and the other allies could take care of Germany, but the Japanese were our bigger enemy. The people here weren't that worried about Japanese-Americans. Some lived here so long that they were accepted. In Michigan, there weren't that many Japanese-Americans that you came across, so we didn't really think about them. The government was more concerned with locking up the Japanese-Americans than we were, but once it was done, it didn't really bother us.

Gas and food and clothing were rationed during the war years. Everyone pretty much got the same allotment of food. You got coupons once a month in the mail that you would use to get food. Meat was especially hard to get. My wife saved a bunch of food ration coupons to have a large family meal. She wanted the whole family to be together in case some of us were sent off to war. Before she got to cook the roast though, someone stole all of the meat when she wasn't looking. We didn't get to have the meal at all, which is OK because none of us got sent to the war and we were able to have many more meals together over the years.

Gasoline rations were different than food rations. Everyone basically received the same amount of food, but gas rations were divided into three categories based on who needed it most. Each car had a sticker on it that would say how much gas you could get. The "A" stickers were for the people who needed the most gasoline. The police force all had "A" stickers on their cars because it was their job to drive around the city. There were "B" stickers for people who needed gas but not as much, and the "C" stickers were for people who didn't need to drive much at all. Because we needed to save our fuel for our war machines, we were encouraged not to drive or use gasoline at all.

We never got used to the war, but those of us who didn't have to fight were able to assimilate our lives to it a little bit. We all wanted it to end, but we also wanted to live on and try not to let it affect us too much. The radio kept us informed about what was happening in the war and we heard President Roosevelt's "fireside chats." The movies we watched weren't about the war, but before each feature, there was something called the Pathe news. The Pathe news was a fifteen to thirty minute news reel that told us about the Japanese or the Germans and our progress in the war. We learned about the fanatical Japanese with their Kamikazes and their Emperor, and we learned about our victories as they happened.

In Detroit, in 1942, we had some problems that made us forget about the war for awhile. There were race riots that made us, especially in the police department, worry about what our home was going to be like when our servicemen returned. I don't know what started the race riots; I don't think it was related to the war but I'm sure that the stress of the war made it easier for people to fight here. We laid rows of sandbags along the side of the streets and waited behind them for something to happen. We almost felt like our American comrades over seas bunkered in waiting for the enemy to make a move. But nothing happened, thankfully.

We all embraced the end of the war and were happy to get our servicemen back to enjoy the prosperity that followed the war. We understood the significance of the use of the atomic bomb and we knew about the destruction that it was capable of, but it also led to the end of the war so we didn't object to using it. We were losing a lot of American soldiers in the war and using the atomic bomb insured that we wouldn't lose any more.

I hated the Japanese during the war because they attacked us and caused the death of so many Americans, but I don't harbor any bad feelings for them today. I will always remember how I felt about them during the war, but it wouldn't be fair to treat the Japanese today a certain way because of what happened more than fifty years ago.

Caroline Berend

She was as unaffected by the war than anyone I have ever talked to and is able to give a perspective on the war that is truly original. While the world was at war, she was dancing.

I was born in 1918 and was twenty three when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I was dancing at the Graystone when the announcement was made over the radio. I knew everyone's life would change from that moment on, but I didn't really think that mine would change that much because the fighting that was to be taking place was in another country. I lived with my mother and had no brothers or sisters. I didn't have to worry about a father or brother leaving for the service (my father died years earlier as did my brother).

I was in love with a man who worked as an undercover police officer. He used to take me on stakeouts where we would sit in his car outside someone's house and we would watch them. We would listen to the radio and hear about what was happening in the war. We were on a stakeout one day when he told me he was going to be drafted and would have to leave. Because of his status on the police department, he was made an officer after a short time. I missed him very much because I loved him and he was the only person I knew that was in the war. About six months after he left me I received a "Dear John" letter, which I had heard the women back home were sending their husbands and boyfriends in the war when they found new loves, but I was very surprised and disappointed when Al sent me a letter that stated he fell in love with a nurse. After awhile I forgot about Al and my mother and I went on living as best we could.

I wasn't really aware of the war that Japan was having with China, because it didn't really concern me. If wars broke out women weren't expected to fight, so I didn't have too much to concern myself with. I preferred to dance over worrying about what Japan and China were up to.

Rationing food was an inconvenience for my mother and I during the war, but we got used to it. We were two women living together and we didn't eat that much anyway. The worst thing about the rationing was that there wasn't much meat. We had to eat spam all the time. I couldn't stand spam! The rationing of gasoline didn't affect us at all because we didn't have a car anyway. We took street cars wherever we wanted to go. The depression years were worse for my mother and me than the war years. At least with the war everyone was working. During the depression, no one had jobs and the food was just as scarce as it was during the war.

Despite the tension and stress that everyone had, I feel that the people at home during the war were much friendlier than they were before or are now years after. Everyone united together and helped each other because we were all Americans. The war definitely helped patriotism. Unfortunately, though, it didn't do anything for racial relations in America, in particular Detroit. During the war, in 1942, Detroit was under the threat of a race riot between the whites and blacks of the city. I don't know what started it, but my mother and I worked very close to where some of the rioting occurred. My mother and I worked for a stationary embossing company on the corner of Grand Circus Park and Watson in the east side of Detroit. We both witnessed a street car being turned over in the street amongst some fighting. For us this was a bigger scare than the war because it was happening so close to where we worked and lived. We were afraid for our lives. After the street car incident we didn't come in to work for three days. By then the police had stopped the rioting and we were able to get on with our lives.

When the war ended I was very happy just like any other American, but my life hadn't changed that much because of the war so I didn't expect it to change much after the war. I was twenty seven years old and was in love once again. This time it was with Frank, a man that was held back from the service because of his designing skills. He worked in a Ford plant that was building bombers. Frank could read the blueprints and was good with designing and constructing things (I don't know if he actually designed the bombers, but his skills were needed nonetheless) so he was able to stay home and work instead of going off to battle. After the war the Ford plant went back to building automobiles and Frank was fired because he was no longer of any use. Al came home and asked me to take him back, but by this time I was engaged to Frank and couldn't forget about how I felt when I received my "Dear John" letter.

Although the years during World War II were very scary for everyone, I was able to live my life as if it was just an inconvenience as opposed to a world crisis. I feel very badly for all of the people on both sides that were killed, but for me I preferred to think about other things. I always liked to dance.

Bill Romanski

He's a senior citizen now. His favorite activity is to travel the world with his senior friends and he loves to gamble. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses, but during World War II he was a big winner. A very lucky winner.

I was born on March 12, 1916 and have lived in Warren, Michigan all my life. I registered for the draft in October of 1940 during peace time. If drafted during peace time you were only expected to serve for one year, which I was willing to do. I didn't want to be a draft dodger. On April 22, 1941 I was drafted into the Army and received basic training at Camp Livingston in Louisiana. I went willingly because, like I said, I didn't want to be a draft dodger. This was peace time anyway, so I didn't mind serving my country. I was aware that Japan was at war with China and war had broken out in Europe, but I didn't really worry about war here because there hadn't been a lot of talk about it.

I received a two week furlough in October of 1941. By October we were starting to worry a little more about the possibility of war. I took the two weeks to drive back to Michigan to marry my girlfriend Stella. Stella and I were married on October 19, 1941 one and a half months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a favor to a friend, I drove his car to Michigan and dropped it off at his parents home in Mount Clemens (which is near where I lived). My friend realized as many of us did that if he had to fight he may not come back and he wanted his parents to have his car.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. We knew we would have to fight and every one of us was scared. Then the luckiest thing that ever happened to me happened. I received a medical discharge. I was going to be sent home. After a few delays, which had me worried I would be put into a different branch of the military instead of discharged, I was sent home on December 22, 1941. I served exactly eight months in the Army and escaped having to fight in World War II because of a medical problem.

I was a part of the Army's 126th infantry regiment, 32nd red arrow division, which consisted of mostly soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin. After I left the red arrows, they were sent to Fort Debets in Massachusetts. They were preparing for combat in Europe. Then in a last minute change, they were sent to California and then to Australia for six months of jungle training. I guess the change was because the United States wasn't doing so well against the Japanese in the early part of the war and it needed the 32nd red arrow division in the Pacific. After the six months of Jungle training, the red arrows were sent to fight the Japanese in New Guinea. Most of the men were wounded or killed including my friend from Mount Clemens who never got a chance to drive his car again.

I received letters from my friends in the Army but most of them were written months before and they were hard to read because so much was censored. I remember being told when I was in the Army that, "Loose lips sink ships," so I understood why the letters had to be censored so much. I really felt bad for them, but I was so relieved that I was home instead of dying in New Guinea with them.

When I returned home in late December of 1941, I immediately went to work. I got a job at Packard motors which was changing from producing Packard automobiles to producing engines for PT boats and engines for other machines. Life was hard for us, but I never forgot about how hard it would have been if I was still in the Army (I probably wouldn't be here today). The rationing that we had was difficult to deal with because there wasn't enough food. Meat was very hard to get, but we got by with what we had. We always knew that however bad it got for us, it was much worse for the soldiers that were forced to fight. We all had to keep living and praying for the end of the war to come.

We didn't think the war would last as long as it did, but when it ended we were very happy. I think we did a good thing by dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. It ended the war and saved American lives. They [Japan] started the war and it was our duty to finish it using any means necessary to save American lives. I don't doubt for a minute that if the Japanese had invented the atomic bomb first, they would have used it on us and the outcome of the war could have been very different. We could be speaking Japanese right now for all I know.

Japanese Americans weren't talked about much here [in Michigan]. We knew that they were being put into camps, but we didn't worry much about that. I personally didn't agree with it, but the government wanted it to be that way so I didn't care. It didn't affect me one way or the other. We hated the "true" Japanese though. We hated them for attacking us.

After the war, life here got better. The whole country prospered and we were a lot happier. We worried that war could break out again in the years that immediately followed it because we didn't trust the Japanese or the Germans.

I don't have any problems with Japanese Americans in our country today; they are Americans just like the rest of us. But I don't have much use for Japan itself or the Japanese people. I could also live without Germany. Too many of my friends were killed in that war and if I lived the rest of my days without seeing a Japanese or German person that would be fine.