The Home Front: WWII


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Narrator: The Second World War transformed the lives of women of all ages in Arizona . In Phoenix , girls in bobby socks and oxfords stepped up to the call to patriotic duty. The memories of three women attending high school during the War reveal how they, along with their mothers and older women, did their part to win the war at home.

Betty Sawyer Pannkoke: I was lying on the floor. The radio was on.

Roosevelt on radio: The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by Naval and Air Forces of the Empire of Japan.

Violet Toy: And the next thing we heard was all -- the paperboy on the corner selling, "Extra! Extra!" you know, if something came up, they would sell the newspaper.

Hortensia Gomez Ortiz: My brothers were old enough to -- I think they had already registered for the draft. We thought of them immediately because they were that age.

Narrator: As friends and brothers joined the military and entered the battle overseas, young women tried to keep the soldiers' spirits high with a steady stream of V-Mail, or Victory Mail.

Betty Sawyer Pannkoke: My little girlfriend and I would sit in the middle of the bed -- we'd spend the night with each other, and then we'd sit in the middle of the bed writing letters to our friends. And we would always try to keep them upbeat.

Hortensia Gomez Ortiz: I wrote to one of my brother's Marine friends, and while he was there, he asked me to marry him. I had never met him. [laughs] I told him, "you're kidding." [laughs] no, I told him, "you know, a lot's going to change by the time you come home." and I grew up.

Betty Sawyer Pannkoke: Their letters were so censored that you could just get an idea, a faint idea, of what was going on and what they were doing and where they were and how homesick they were and wanted to come home.

Narrator: The war effort required that gas, food, and clothing be shipped to the thousands of soldiers in the Pacific and Europe . This created shortages for those on the home front. Rationing became a part of everyday life.

Hortensia Gomez Ortiz: Shoes. [laughs] I remember that shoes -- you couldn't buy a decent pair of shoes. It seemed to me that they were made out of cardboard, and I think -- they had plastic. I longed for a decent pair of shoes that fit me.

Narrator: Women paid with food ration coupons for staples like sugar, coffee, and flour. During the war, the Toy Family ran a grocery store at 16th Street and Camelback Road , and keeping track of supplies was a chore.

Violet Toy: We were kept busy, you know, counting Ration Cards and giving the people their ration when they came or saving the food for our better customer.

Narrator: Women volunteered many hours for the war effort. They provided services to the hundreds of servicemen pouring into Phoenix as Military Bases sprouted around the valley.

Betty Sawyer Pannkoke: And the troop trains, as they were called, were big through there, constantly back and forth from the coast over -- going back East, and vice versa. Some of them didn't even get off the train. The women would meet them at the train and through the windows, they would hand them donuts and coffee or whatever else they would have.

Violet Toy: My mother, from the year 1941 or '42, she would cook up a meal every Saturday and Sunday for the Chinese Air Force, the Cadets that were being trained here. And of course when someone heard, "I'm going to the Toy's for dinner," we would end up with at least five, or six, or maybe ten people from -- from Thunderbird or from Luke or from Williams Field.

Narrator: Prior to the War, most women in the marketplace held jobs such as nurses, secretaries, and maids. Now women were encouraged to take jobs in newly established wartime industries.

TV Announcer: In war towns all over the United States , women are called upon to leave their homes and take jobs. Employers find that women can do many jobs as well as men, some jobs better.

Man: How do you like it?

Woman: I love it!

Hortensia Gomez Ortiz: Just before graduation, I was informed that I had a job with the US Navy. We worked with engineers. I was in the office, and the Navy Office there inspected the Pontoons that were being manufactured.

Narrator: Along with new jobs, war also brought anxiety, and sometimes tragic news.

Hortensia Gomez Ortiz: A lot of the boys went off to war, our friends. Some didn't come back. Western Union used to deliver all the telegrams from the US Government that somebody had been killed. One of them came to our home by mistake, and mother, even when she saw him at the door, she started hollering and crying. And it wasn't for us, it was for our neighbor. It was so sad.

Narrator: The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought the War to a close. Like most young women at the time, Betty and Hortensia married and raised families. They later worked as secretaries, while Violet attended College and became a teacher. While working for victory on the home front, women in Phoenix and all over America held their communities together, meanwhile leaving a legacy of hard work and self-confidence as an example for future generations.

Hortensia Gomez Ortiz: We became more aware of how strong we were, our capabilities. We knew we could do things that in the old days, you know, we hadn't even tried. The women took over, and I admire them. They knew what had to be done, and they did it.