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World War II 
I was six years old when World War II started, 50 years ago last month, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor changed my relationship with our mountains for the rest of my life.
We lived in Portland, Oregon, and from the time I was six months old I had spent six summers, July and August, at our summer home in Tahosa Valley.
In the late 30s we lived a fairly privileged life, with my father able to take two months off in the summer, and we had the luxury of a live-in maid. One of my earliest memories is of being carried to the train in Portland by our maid, Blanche, who took me to Colorado while my older brother and mother and father went in the family car.
But the war changed all that. Live-in maids in Portland could make an excellent living in the Kaiser shipyards, building Liberty ships. We never had a maid again.
My father, as a minister, wasn’t restricted to an “A” card, which limited the holder to only 27 gallons of gasoline a month, and he could buy tires and other parts, if they were available. But he decided that his place was with his church “for the duration,” which was a favorite phrase of the time, so from 1942 until 1946 we spent our summers in Portland and my father aided the war effort by being a member of the war labor board and as president of the Travelers Aid Society. My mother helped, too, and spent many hours at the train station, helping travelers who were stranded or otherwise in need of help.
We had the usual ration cards and books of coupons for meat, sugar and other staples. We knew what recycling was about; we saved our newspapers, scrap metal, old pots and pans and even bacon grease, which, we were told, helped make explosives.
When I was in the third grade I learned how to knit well enough to knit a small square which became part of a blanket which was then sent to warm some homeless European. I bought Savings Stamps. The ones I can remember had a picture of a Minuteman on them, holding a rifle and wearing a cocked hat. My father, in anticipation of the war, had bought a new car, a Nash. It turned out to be a lemon but he was stuck with it and it plagued him “for the duration.” It always seemed to have something wrong with it and my father, when he came home, was often muttering under his breath about some part that had fallen off the car or no longer worked. By the end of the war it was an unloved mess.
Fortunately, the beautiful Oregon beaches were close by, so we spent our summers at the summer homes of friends and parishioners, at villages with names like Gearhart, Manzanita, and Neskowin. My father, who loved to fish, had to find something new to do, and so we flew kites on the beaches. He built big kites, some twice as tall as I was, which were sometimes staked out and allowed to fly all night.
We often stayed at the Miller’s at Gearhart. We had to observe the blackout and I heard the grownups talking about Japanese submarines. At the beginning of the war the Millers had entertained some servicemen, one of whom was an amateur magician. One of the tricks he had performed for the house guests was to toss a deck of cards at the wood ceiling of the Cape Cod house. One of the cards stuck to the ceiling, and he told the Millers that it would stay there until the war was over. I looked up at that card every time I visited; I knew when it fell the war would be over and we could go back to Colorado. Remarkably, it did indeed fall very close to the end of the war.
The Oregon beaches were a great place for a kid my age, but my dreams were of Colorado. By the time the war was over, my recollections were mixed up with my fantasies and I no longer had a clear idea of what our summer place was like; I was only sure that it was where I wanted to be.
In Colorado, the war brought fewer changes than one might think to our mountains. When World War II started, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park were expected to be deserted, as the country prepared to defeat the Axis in both hemispheres. But that was not to be the case. Since foreign travel was impossible, domestic vacations became precious and like the Oregon beaches where I spent my summers during the war, Estes Park played host to military and civilian alike, who looked on nearby resorts as a haven from the cares and pressures of America’s war effort.
Many Estes Park young men were drafted, and a few were career members of the military. Charles Eagle Plume was inducted into the Army in July of 1942. Their assignments and promotions were part of a regular column in The Estes Park Trail. Estes Park had civil defense training in aircraft recognition, and even practiced a blackout, which was successful, except for the woman who fell nine feet off her neighbor’s wall in the dark and was fairly seriously injured.
Gas rationing didn’t begin in Colorado until late in that year, but few complained. The real problem was tires and parts. Several gas stations offered a weekly check-up to motorists to check water, tire pressures and the like, in an effort to get the most out of what was available. In order to get tires you had to fill out an application and requests were approved based on need. People who were lucky enough to get a set of tires got their names printed in the Trail.
In 1943 Estes Park began fund raising to purchase a Grumman Avenger, a three-place torpedo bomber which cost $70,000. Many cities held drives to raise money to buy individual planes. Estes Park eventually raised more than $100,000, which allowed the aircraft to be equipped with advanced avionics and heavier armor.
In spite of the increased number of tourists, many of whom were military members on leave, citizens found time for drives of all kinds, which contributed paper, scrap metal and rubber. The Allenspark business community, the Trail noted a few days after the war broke out, contributed its entire advertising budget to the war effort.
There was, of course a manpower shortage and there weren’t enough people to staff the forest fire lookouts. As a result, hundreds of private planes were recruited to patrol the Colorado forests throughout the war.
Even the National Park contributed to the war effort, sending one of its snow plows to a bomber training field in Nebraska.
In 1944 my father was invited to preach at a church in Eugene, Oregon, and I went with him, on a United Airlines DC-3. The 110 mile trip was my first in an airplane. In 1945, when I was nine years old, I went with him on a train to Berkeley in May. The train was filled with people in uniform. As the train left Portland we sat down to dinner and I ordered squab. When I found it tough, I took my hunting knife from its sheath at my waist, which I suppose I wore to defend myself from the Yellow Peril, and cut up the squab. My father was vastly amused. We were in Berkeley when the war in Europe ended. I remember the celebrations in the streets. On the train ride back I terrorized the passengers with a plastic blowgun loaded with rubber darts my father had bought for me in San Francisco.
The war ended too late for us to go to Colorado in 1945. In 1946 we drove our brand new battleship gray Dodge two-door sedan, and I can clearly remember driving down Big Owl Road for the first time. My father had asked Mr. Sutherland to act as caretaker during the war, and he had allowed him to cut a few trees. But as we drove down the road it was clear Mr. Sutherland had cut hundreds of trees in the intervening four years, and my father was furious. As it turned out, the thinning was good for the forest, but at the time my father was appalled, and I had never seen him so angry.
I didn’t care. I was at the place I had been dreaming about for four long years. Prior to 1941 I had just assumed I would always spend the summers in Colorado. I never took it for granted again.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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