John K. King Books, Ferndale
A few weeks ago, we traveled to John K. King Books in Ferndale. This store is much smaller than the bookstore we visited in Detroit, and just as I was about to leave empty-handed, I spied an enormous book. It looked like a scrapbook, but upon closer inspection, it was a compilation of newspaper editions of the Milwaukee Journal from May 1-15, 1942. My daughter offered to buy the collection for me as a Christmas present, and at $10, I could not refuse her offer!
As I have written before, history—specifically historical documents like newspapers, magazines and books—fascinate me. As I turned the rodent-gnawed pages and read article after article, I quickly realized that the underlying theme of each edition, namely the Second World War, permeated many stories and ad layouts.
A Carousel of Historical Delights!
Not only was every single employee at the Journal affected by the Second World War, but the beautiful brides (many who had married or were going to marry servicemen) whose pictures adorned the social pages, the women appointed to this or that committee, the ladies’ bowling teams, the baseball players featured on the sports pages, the comic strip creators and the men and women who provided the ads (and there were many!) were touched by the war in one way or another.
Some of the stories were heartbreaking, like the mother whose three of four sons had been drafted and was terrified her fourth son would be required to report for duty as soon as he turned 18. She had not heard from her sons in over a year and had no idea where they were, and she was angry the life she had envisioned for them was suddenly and cruelly altered.
World War II Sacrifices
The sacrifices Americans were forced to make was glaringly apparent in articles that addressed food rationing. Sugar was an especially precious commodity, and everyone who qualified had to make sure to sign up to receive their allotment. If you did not show up on that particular day, you would receive no sugar and must wait until the next sign-up day.
Coffee was also restricted, and in May of 1942, the secretary of the Wisconsin restaurant association decided that to easily meet the government’s directive to reduce coffee consumption, restaurants would be required to refuse a second cup to customers. Also, consumers were limited to one package of coffee from the grocery.
A Few Front Pages…
…And One Captivating Front Page
When I first read this headline, I had been browsing through a few pages at the bookstore. Neither my husband nor I had heard of ships being attacked near the Mississippi River during World War II, and since the date of this newspaper is May 15, I would likely never know what the Journal printed over the next few days. That meant only one thing: a Google search.
US Tanker Virginia Attacked!
On May 12, 1942, the S.S. Virginia, an unescorted and unarmed 10,000 pound oil tanker that held 180,000 barrels of gasoline, sat at the mouth of the Mississippi, waiting on a pilot to be ferried from the mainland. Just after 3:00 p.m., U-boat (Unterseeboot) U-507 Lieutenant Commander Harro Schacht gave orders to torpedo the Virginia’s port side. Two minutes later, two more torpedoes hit the port side, severing the tanker. The attack caught the master and crewman off guard, and they had no time to lower lifeboats. Twenty-seven of the 41 crewmen died, and most of the 14 survivors were badly burned. The survivors were picked up by PT-157 (Patrol, Torpedo) as the remains of the Virginia plunged into 200-plus meters on the continental shelf. Schact slipped away, only to wreak havoc in the Gulf of Mexico many more times, for a total of 19 successful attacks. See a full accounting of the attack at Americanheritage.com and U-boat.net.
A Glimpse of Life in Milwaukee
I suspect that the Journal’s stories I read were similar to countless others found in newspapers across the U.S. during the war. Despite the chaos and destruction and cruelty that greeted readers of the Journal during this time, plenty of feel-good stories were mixed in along with comics and crosswords, gardening tips and recipes, and horse racing (May 2 Kentucky Derby Winner Shut Out!) and baseball (with a shout-out to the soon-to-be-formed (1944) Milwaukee Chicks!).
And many of us will keep a soft spot in our hearts for the “crossword craze.”