The other heroes of 1944
Back in 1944, life was not only difficult, but it was very different. Our whole world was in an all-out war effort. Our nation and its people were combined in a single purpose—to bring the war to a close as soon as possible.
You young people who weren’t around have read books, seen movies, watched TV or heard the stories of the various heroes of the battlefields—many of them never returned. They all deserve every bit of honor, glory and recognition that has come their way. However, they were not the only deserving heroes of World War II.
Most of you can trace back to a relative or close family friend who made sacrifices during these times. Some were recognized and some were not.
Rationing was a way of life. Not just a few items, but just about every commodity in our life—gasoline, tires, car parts, food, shoes, sugar, hardware, building materials and even other means of transportation. Everything was either rationed or prioritized.
Many services were given a priority rating. You might be on a train trip going somewhere and would be put off in the middle of the trip when you were “bumped” by someone with a higher priority. The same thing could happen to your car in a repair shop. Priority would be given to someone’s car that was used in a more critical war effort than yours. This applied not only to parts, but labor as well.
So who are the “other” heroes of 1944? As you can guess, I am referring to the automobiles that were on the road at that time. Of course, we all know the part that was played by military vehicles such as jeeps, tanks, trucks and special equipment, but what about the passenger cars and civilian vehicles?
The staff cars used by the armed forces came from two sources. There were a few cars in the late ’30s through 1941 that were ordered from the assembly lines and went direct to the military. Remember though, all production of automobiles stopped completely in late 1941 after a limited amount of 1942 models had been produced.
As for the rest, the largest majority of staff cars used by the armed forces were acquired from used car lots. Government purchasing agents would go around and buy the cars in good condition and they were taken to various processing plants where they were given a military paint job which usually covered everything but the windows. In many cases, such accessories as blackout lights and two-way radio hookups were added. These cars, though not usually in actual combat, served in the military.
What about the cars left on the road or at home? There were a lot of car owners who went into the service and put their cars in storage until they returned. A number of these car owners did not return. What happened to their cars? Some were used or sold by the family…some were left stored for years in memory of the lost owner. Every now and then, some of these cars turn up as family members finally let go of them.
As far as the rest of the cars left to serve on the home front, the question is—what happened to them and how were they used? Let’s recall what these “heroes” did.
Defense plants and factories needed workers and carpools were mandatory to take these workers to and from the job. Many of these factories were located in remote areas. If you used your car in defense work, you were given extra gas rations in the form of a “B” sticker.
There were also the cars used by law enforcement agencies…not only on local levels, but on federal levels to combat espionage and sabotage. We also had doctors and government officials who needed reliable transportation.
In those days, there was very little pleasure driving as we know it today. This had to take care of your grocery shopping, trips to the doctor, civil defense meetings, church or whatever. The national speed limit was 35 miles per hour and as far as tires were concerned, it would scare you to see the condition of some of the tires we drove on then.
Many farmers used their cars as pickup trucks and even to tow or operate farm machinery. Boy! Talk about car heroes...some of these went above and beyond.
When your car broke down, you usually had to repair the broken parts, as for new replacement parts—forget it unless you had a high priority. If the part was beyond repair, you went to a junkyard and hoped to find either a usable part or one not as bad as your unrepairable one. There were times when your car had to go to the junk yard to furnish parts for someone else’s car. Many of these “parts cars” were turned into scrap metal to make tanks, guns and other war material. The war had a huge appetite for scrap metal, Many of these cars became a hero in their next life.
When the war was over, it took a while for shortages to let up. Fuel became available very soon...tires took a little longer. Parts became available, more or less. As far as replacement new cars—well, it took about three years before you could go down and buy a new car without a priority or waiting your turn in line.
In the meantime, our tired old hero cars couldn’t retire…they kept on giving their all. Some of these “old heroes” from 1944 are still around after being given new life and glory.
By chance, do you have a 1944 hero in your garage? If not, you are missing a lot. Whenever you see a car of 1942 or older vintage on the road today, you know it had to be around during the trying times of World War II. (You might even want to give it a quick salute.)
You have to wonder where it was and what it was doing in 1944. If you get a chance, ask the owner. He may know and you can get an interesting story. If the car was strong enough to survive those years, it has to be some kind of hero.
Who knows—it could have been the car that transported the FBI agent who caught the saboteur planning to blow up the defense plant where your ancestors were working. Would that make it a hero in your eyes?
See ya next month.