Oral Interview with
Eleanor and Norm Tewes
by Micah Frankel
This is a transcription of interview that was conducted on February 28,
1998 in Irvine, CA. To the best of my ability, I have transcribed the conversation.
Please keep in mind that some of the atmosphere, sounds of actual conversations
that are not words (umm, uh, huh), body language, and instances of more
than one person speaking at a time are lost in transcription. The interviewees
are Norm and Eleanor Tewes, my next door neighbors who had watched me grow
up from across the street. Mrs. Tewes tutors Japanese women who temporarily
reside in the United States due to their husband's business needs. The Tewes
met when they were students at Indiana University. They got married and
moved to Gary, Indiana and resided there during the war.
Italicized text: Myself (Micah Frankel)
Plain text: Norm Tewes
Bold text: Eleanor Tewes
I have some questions for you about your memories of World War II.
A memory I have is of the food stamps. Red and blue food stamps.
What was the difference?
Well, the red stamps were for meat and and milk, and milk and dairy products
and baby food and blue stamps were for miscellaneous groceries.
How did you get the stamps?
Everybody, well everybody, all the legal people got stamps, and there
was a black market. But we did everything the right way.
So we ate a lot of chipped beef. Meat was, meat was a, we didn't have
enough stamps to buy steak. It was ok, and the food stamps were what for-
vegetables and for -canned goods mostly- canned vegetables.
It was enough to get buy on?
Yeah, that was ok. Everything was enough to get buy on, but it was no fun.(laughs)
Of course there was gas rationing too. And you were allotted just, well I can't remember what the allotment was
Well we had tickets for that too.
It was a very meager amount because I commuted to my job with a neighbor to save gas. Well he was an executive there and he had higher gas allotment than I did. So ah...
Well he was on call on weekends so he got more gas
Where we you living at this point?
Indiana, Gary Indiana. We were living in the dunes beyond Miller Beach.
It's lovely there.
You were in the steel business?
I was with Standard Steel Spring Company. Uh, actually they did make
truck springs when I went with them. Then they branched out into armor plated
tanks after that. And uh, I think they had about one-hundred and fifty employees
to start with, and about a thousand when I left.
Was the jump during the war?
And you were the head accountant.
And he used a very primitive computer. He was the only one who could master it.
It was the old, I think they called it the 4TO1 with the key push and
80 blind cards, a sorter, and tabulator which I then had to program for
payroll, and sealed that and other programs that required wiring the board.
And I'm not electronically inclined.(Laughs)
You had mentioned that you wanted to join the navy right away.
I did. We talked it over and then decided that we would go into Chicago and I would enlist in the Navy. So, I took a Friday off, went in, signed up, took the physical and everything.
Got back Monday morning and there was a note on my desk, "Please
go up to see Roy Vaught" who was general manager of the whole plant.
And uh, so I was shaking in my boots. If you pardon my French that I use
but the exact words he said, "Tewes, what the hell are you trying to
do? I said, "Well, I'm not sure sir." He said, "Well were
notified that you tried to join the Navy." So it went very unsuccessfully.
Was there pressure, or an air about society....
It was just that my brother and everyone else that we knew was in the
service. And uh, I just felt strange out there.(nervous chuckle)
Some of the films we've watched in the course were about the home front, and how people on the home front were a part of the war effort too.
We were, yeah we were. We were into recycling, even then. We used to even save the aluminum foil that was around a stick of gum. We'd save that. And we'd make these balls of aluminum foil. And so all that stuff, and I don't know about newspapers.
They didn't recycle newspapers but just tin cans an the like.
And they had bins out when the trash was picked up.
Did most people participate in that kind of stuff?
Oh yeah. The people who stayed home, most of us, were pretty conscientious. We had friends who used to get illegal stamps and they'd invite us over for dinner. They'd have roasts and steaks and they'd eat like this every day. We were eating a lot of creamed chipped beef on toast.
And Spam. It's a terrible word. We haven't been able to eat it since.
Well, you don't have to anymore.
Thanks, not again.
So what kind of jobs did people have? Women for instance?
Many women worked in the plants. That's when it started that women actually became technicians and laborers. The particular plant I was in had maybe 4 or 5 women out of a thousand, but there were other plants where a lot of women worked assembly lines.
Friends of my mother's, Elvira, worked in the...I don't know what she did...she worked in a steel mill. And her sister too.
After all, a lot of young men were in the service and away, so there
was a shortage.
And that was widely accepted?
That was when the role of women changed.
Of course there was a selective service.
The draft board.
And uh, we were married in May of 1941. We didn't go to war until December. But then I got a call from the draft board and they automatically gave me a six month permit for being married. Because it was early in the war. But then after that, of course, Standard Steel stepped in and took care of the...they wanted extensions every six months
Every six months they'd, that's what we got sick of. We couldn't plan
ahead you know? And then they would defer him. So we said after that he
might as well enlist- he could get a commission in the Navy.
What was the image in the American's minds about what type of people the Japanese were?
Well, it wasn't good. But I think we had more against Hitler. So we
were not unhappy when (not recorded well) and to any other people who didn't
like what he was doing.
How did people gain their information? Was it from newspapers, radio, the movies?
It was strictly newspaper and radio
Well, and the news reels. We weren't really aware of, did we know about the concentration camps then?
No. You see that wasn't publicized
There was a movie called "Pastor Nemo", who went to a concentration
camp. Do you remember that? It was an old black and white movie? I don't
remember that. Yeah I do, I do remember we saw some of that. The film was
made in Europe someplace.
You guys remember other films? Did people go to the movies during wartime?
Yes, um, yeah. Well, I don't know.
We didn't go to the movies that much.
Yeah, we lived outside of town about 7 or 8 miles and gas was rationed, so we didn't go to a lot of movies but we went to some. I don't remember what we saw. Nothing very memorable. One thing I liked was um, there was a series called, music, called Victory at Sea. But that didn't come out during the war, I remember that as after. Richard Rogers wrote the music. Well it's a, it's wonderful. Every time that runs I like to see it again. They show it periodically on TV.
Yeah I've actually seen that.
Well I'm glad you've been exposed to that.
We used to listed to Edward R. Murrough, a lot
Yeah? Who was that?
He was a CBS radio broadcaster. He eventually ended up on television. But he was recording directly from London. And he would just say,
I have a recording of his.
"This is London".
An old record. See if you can find that in the record cabinet.
So you kept that?
We did, yeah. It was wonderful. We got it, I don't know when. I think,
uh, I think our son got it for us. He knows about Edward R. Murrow, he's
heard about him through us. He did, um, he did a lot of other good documentaries.
Now have you heard Fred Friendly died?
Yes, I saw that in the newspaper.
And he and Murrow did some marvelous things. They did an expose on
McCarthy, the McCarthy period. And they did one called, "Harvest of
Shame" about the migrant workers. And things are no better for them
today. So anyway, every once in a while they run that old chestnut out,
and it breaks your heart.
Speaking of today, and you work with all these Japanese women...
Yeah I had, I just had lunch with some of them today. And I'm having
some over tomorrow.
Well obviously since the war, when the Japanese weren't thought of well, until today and you're working with them, how has your opinion of them changed?
Well, I talk about Hiroshima. You know. They destroyed that with the atom bomb
And I had a young woman who's gone back to Japan since then. And she
lived in Hiroshima, she came from there, and it's an entirely new city.
So, we have forgiven each other. .We didn't have to drop that bomb.
So this was an open conversation?
Oh yeah, right. And they sort of apologized for their part in starting the war.
And I apologized for the bomb, two bombs.
That was one thing we just never agreed with Truman. Because the war was collapsing anyway. And they said, well, "It would save a lot of lives". It didn't save many lives in Japan.
Was your opinion common at that time?
No, no it wasn't. It was among our friends. My brother was a chemist
before he was a doctor and he tried to describe to us how the bomb worked.
Even he thought it was a terrible thing.
So was that a highly publicized event?
Oh yes Oh yes (in unison)
Yeah we saw pictures of that mushroom. We didn't have TV then. I don't remember when we got TV. It was after the war. In the 50's I guess.
And cars weren't made at that time.
Oh that's right, we drove an old Concord.
Everything went to the war?
Yeah, we couldn't um, you couldn't buy a washing machine, unless you got a used one someplace. All that stuff was hard to get.
And there was a shortage of cigarettes. I smoked a pipe, so there was always tobacco available. But Elanor smoked cigarettes. Not very much but I used to go stand in line, never knowing if it was the cigarette line or a line for nylon stockings. Which were shortaged. And one time, towards the end...
Silk stockings (interruption)
...towards the end of the war we got, a, a package from one of Elanor's cousins who was stationed overseas. It turned out to be two cartons of cigarettes. And the mailman stood there, he knew pretty well what it was. So I gave him a pack of cigarettes.
They were giving them to the service people.
You guys had friends that went overseas...
Oh yeah. We had friends who were killed too. A couple of Norm's fraternity
brothers were killed.
Did you correspond with anybody in the war?
Yes, a lot of people.
Both ways? Could you write to them and them to you?
Yes, uh huh. Particularly one friend of mine that I went to the university with, he had completed artillery training in Illinois and came to Indiana. And, uh, so he applied and started out as a private. Eventually he made sergeant. Suddenly we got a letter from "Private" Dick Socket. (both laugh)
He went up and down.
He really opposed the war, he opposed the artillery...
Was that common? Did you know a few people here and there who opposed the war?
In the service, no...
There weren't too many people opposed to the war because Hitler was a terrible man. And so there wasn't that much opposition. And I don't think Dick was...
Well your father was opposed...
Well, he was born in Germany so that's an exception.
If you had to pick one or two of your most vivid memories of the war, what would they be?
Well, V-E day. And V-J day.
V-J day was sort of an anti-climax to the war.
But it was really the end.
V-E day, the end of the European conflict, was really the end.
We got LIFE Magazine in those days. It came out every week. And they
had some of the most wonderful photographers, and some very good pictures.
How did you first hear about V-E and V-J day?
Well, the radio....It was wonderful. I think it lasted four years didn't it?
And his brother was in China.
He was in (unintelligible recording) 14th Air Force. There were at Kunming, China. And, uh he had a lot of talk back and forth from India.
Do you have memories of Pearl Harbor?
Oh yes. We actually didn't hear about it until 2 or three hours later when we got back.
My sister and brother-in-law were visiting us. They used to come out
to the dunes often, so we didn't listen to the radio. After they left we
turned it on and we heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
Was it a surprise?
Yes, yes. I think it was a shock to everyone. And of course we thought Roosevelt was ok. But a lot of people didn't like him.
As far as I'm concerned, he was one of the greatest presidents. He did
a lot of things for this country. And as far as the aftermath of Pearl Harbor,
the speech that he made to Congress, just instilled the fighting spirit
So you think this had an effect on a lot of people?
It sure did. Because had been trying to get the military built up before
then. He saw what Hitler was doing. Again, the Republican party just wouldn't
vote for it.
I thought Edward R. Murrow was... I was majoring in journalism...He and Fred Friendly, they were against the commercialization of the news.
The thing about Murrow's broadcast was that you could hear the bombs.
He'd be up on a roof, and he'd say, "This is London", and
you'd hear the bombs drop in the background. We were always glued to the
radio when he was on.
Did you listen to the radio everyday?
Yeah during the war we did.
Yeah we did.
Cause that was really the only current news that you could find.
We listened to music too. So...
So I think that answers just about all of the questions I had for you. Thank you very much for your openness and time.
Do you want some cookies?