[Transcript of interview with Carol Handing, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

John Rutherford:  Hi, I’m John Rutherford and I’m the host for the Recollections and Connections Project.  We’re speaking here at the Library Center today and who am I talking with?

Carol Handing:  My name is Carol Handing.

John Rutherford:  And what’s the name of your presentation?

Carol Handing:  I want to say childhood memories of World War II.

John Rutherford:  And I’ll just turn it over to you Carol.

Carol Handing:  All right, John.  Thank you.  This is just, there is so many things to try to remember but I guess what I’m impressed with, comparing today, is that World War II probably started when I was almost 7 years old. I remember that the whole community, I was born and raised in St. Louis, in my neighborhood I can remember there was no trash on the streets.  Everything was recycled.  We had a newspaper drive, people would collect everything you could collect because it would, did get recycled into products to serve the troops overseas.  What was interesting then, and of course we find out this later, but as kids we didn’t realize all the technicality that was going on, but I remember one thing very vividly.  They came out with the first use of plastic in the country with little coins that they called, they were stamped coins that had holes in them and there were two colors, red and green, and these were specifically to replace the pennies, the copper pennies, that even was taken away from us, so to speak, because every product that you can think of that they needed to make, you know, equipment serve the troops everything, it was fantastic, so the red ones were called five mil, and the green were one mil, which meant it was one tenth of a penny and/or five tenths of a penny.  In those years when you went to the store, cause we always had corner grocery stores in the neighborhood, the corner taverns, which you know was a great two-fer just stopping in after work for the men, and we would find them loose on the street, literally it was like a treasure hunt. And we would gather all the little plastic mils we could and turn them into the store and we could get our penny bag of candy.  And in those years you could get 10 pieces of candy for a penny.  It was phenomenal. 

Another thing I remember that came out during this time was that, and of course again, this is something I learned later, but the state of Wisconsin being the milk capital, the milk state of the country, you couldn’t buy butter because we had ration books, that, again they were in different colors depending on the size of your family; these rations covered where you could get once a month your ration of flour, sugar, leather for your shoes to get your shoes repaired because new shoes weren’t available all the time,  your butter, eggs, certain products that they were learning how to recycle and make powdered eggs, and the Spam came out for the men overseas.  So, the whole country was behind the two wars.  We really were. But as children it was kind of interesting for us because there was different things going on that we just thought it was fun to gather papers and everything, so again, recycling started even then cause the country was going, ‘we’ve got to make sacrifices’ and that was one of the things we did.  The rations on the leather, that was interesting, we had the shoemaker in the neighborhood, but what happened was if your shoes, because we had city sidewalks we walked on all the time and we walked back and forth to school, to the show, to the store, if your shoe wore out, the leather underneath, until you got time to get your ration to get your shoes fixed, we would slip cardboard in the bottom of our shoes and literally that was the sole of our shoes.  I actually have some calluses left from that.  This is, this is the byproduct, unfortunately.  But anyway, it was just a time that, and there was other things going on, and of course, in the neighborhood, if there was young men that had gone off to war, I remember the kid walking through the neighborhood and seeing these little flags in the window to indicate that the family had a son and/or daughter in the war.  I don’t remember, I remember there was gold stars on them, but I don’t know if that was because then that person was perished in the war and wasn’t coming home, I think that was part of that.  But I remember that very vividly too, I mean there were, you know, it was sad because in those days everybody knew everybody in the neighborhood.  Everybody knew the name of the person in the neighborhood that lived a block away because we were such a tight community and this was all over the city, not just in our particular neighborhood. 

Probably the most impressive things that I still remember vividly, and this is where it upsets me when people, some people think this war didn’t happen, Life Magazine and Look Magazine were two big magazines in those years, and we got them and I think at that time they might have been weekly, I always remember every, every week almost the magazine came the black and white pictures that showed pictures of the war.  We got pictures from the home front.  We got pictures of bodies laying on steps of, of, especially as I got older of nine or ten when the war was kind of coming to a close, and these showed the devastation in Europe, it was astounding.  And it was so impressed that I’ll never forget it.  And I guess to this day I, there’s, there’s some war pictures I don’t even care to see because I don’t want to relive it.  We, we, we knew the pressure but again, we were young enough and I was going to a Catholic school, the war was never really addressed except on Sunday ‘pray for the soldiers overseas’.  Ok. 

But I do remember one thing specifically, too because my father took a job in Indianapolis for about a year.  They were taking married men with children because after drafting everybody they could that were able to go to war because of course we were fighting on two war fronts, but my father fortunately was working in St. Louis at the time; also he had kind of gone away for a while and then came back, where we lived in north St. Louis was a place called the Small Arms Plant.  It was strictly government.  And they did make bullets there, we understand, and ammunition and weapons and so forth.  They had special buses that would bus the women to go to work there because, of course, there was no men, really young men, available.  In the process of transferring from one school to another during that time also I remember that when the bus came along on the route there was a certain bus you could get on to get you home.  Then there was just the buses loaded with strictly the women going to the plant and that’s as far as it would go.  Well, if the man, the bus driver, didn’t have his name in the window, that it said Small Arms Plant, I would accidentally get on the bus and first thing you’d know I’d walk on the bus and here’s all these women with their hair done up in nets and these brown khaki outfits and I’m going uh–oh so I got off as far as I could go and walked home the rest of the way.  And of course it took about two or three times before I would finally look in the window to see who was on the car, on the bus, before I got on the bus. 

But it was a time of transition for the country but everybody pulled together and everybody knew everybody and so when we lost a boy in the neighborhood it was felt by all of us.  So war is a sad thing.  I don’t like to see it.  I disagree with it all together.  I think it’s, doesn’t even help anymore.

John Rutherford:  You said you lived in a neighborhood in St. Louis.  What street did you live on in St. Louis?

Carol Handing:  The street was named Emma.

John Rutherford:  Was there like a, an ethnic neighborhood there?

Carol Handing:  No. No.

John Rutherford:  Or was it just generally anyone.

Carol Handing:  It was generally anyone, cause it was in the north part of St. Louis like I said, near where the Small Arms Plant where we were, or my father worked.  In fact, the, one of the public buses went right up our street every day so that’s how I knew about all the bus arrangements and stuff.

John Rutherford:  So you had a little better situation for transportation; you were actually right on a major route.

Carol Handing:  Right.  But, again, we, it was nothing for us to walk.  We would, at that time in my neighborhood, we had three movie theaters, and it was nothing for my brother and I, cause I was the oldest, my brother was about two years behind me, it was nothing for us later on, after the war, of course, to walk to the movies, ten blocks away, you know, because, I think, because everybody knew everybody in the neighborhood, in your particular couple of blocks and even if you went out like at Halloween, kids did for Halloween, that’s another story, we knew everybody in our neighborhood.  Our streets were safe and children felt safe.  But even during the war, just to save a, the money to ride the bus fare, we would walk to the grocery store, the library, the ice cream store, everything.  Actually, in spite of the war, our childhood was great because we played outside.  We made up, we used our imagination, it was wonderful, and maybe because our families protected us from the drastic of the war too.  But I remember that I think that the childhood memories will never leave me because so much we did go on, and of course, as an adult I’ve read about so much more that was connected with it.  But, yeah, during, that war brought out many things.

John Rutherford:  How old were your brothers and sisters and your parents when the war started in ’41?

Carol Handing:  I would say both of my parents were in their young thirties, yeah, I was about seven cause it started in ’41 and my birthday was that January.  And then, of course, it ended in ’45, and so I was, I had just turned 10.  My brother was about eight at the time when the war ended.  And then the other brother would have been about a three-year-old.  The two sisters didn’t come along until much later.

John Rutherford:  Have any other comments?

Carol Handing:  World War II was very impressive because the country pulled together.  There wasn’t, if there was a nasty person, if there was murder going on, it was so uncommon because at that time everybody was fighting for one thing only and that was, we were mad, I remember hearing Roosevelt on the radio, it was on a Sunday when he announced, cause all we had basically was radio, we didn’t have TV in those years, talking about getting bombed in Pearl Harbor and from the description of it, you know, we didn’t, we couldn’t see pictures ‘til they came out later, again, in the magazines, but we heard it and we, everybody like Roosevelt we really did, we felt like he was trying to really do good for the country.  Wow!  What a, what a time it was, but there was this feeling from the small community to the city to the country ‘we’re all one’.  We’re behind this, no matter what it takes, we’re gonna’ make sure we get this solved.  That was just the way we did.  We were fighting on, in our hearts and our minds, while the men and the women were fighting out there in the actual war.  And of course, to see pictures later on in the years, when Clint Eastwood especially made the picture about the one side of the war, when he did it not too long ago, and then he also did about the Japanese side on that one particular island, I did see that.  I saw that because over the years you’ve got to forgive whatever, whoever started this and why they started these wars.  You’ve got to learn to forgive it eventually, you know.

John Rutherford:  That is a fascinating program.  Thank you so much, Carol

Carol Handing:  Thanks, John.  I tried my best to pull it out from memory.

[Transcript of interview with Carol Handing, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]