My mother Carolyn King Waller stopped by Lisa’s History Room this afternoon for a little chat. Carolyn was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1934. She has a mind like a steel trap; her ability to recall stories from the past is legend.
Lisa: Thanks for stopping by today, Mom. Everyone knows that you love history. What would you say is your favorite period?
Carolyn: Probably the World War Two years, 1941 to 1945. And of course World War Two for other countries was longer that. 1941 to 1945 were America’s war years.
Lisa: And why is that your favorite period?
Carolyn: The fate of the world hung in the balance. It was a lot of drama – really, truly, good against evil.
Lisa: So it fascinates you.
Carolyn: I’m not the only one…others are fascinated by it still…of course, we didn’t know about the Jews being exterminated, 6 million…then the Stalin thing…Stalin moved in from the east, we (the Allies) moved in from the west. The countries that Stalin occupied in the east became known as the countries behind the Iron Curtain. Churchhill coined the phrase. The poor people who had been under Germany were then under Russia! We didn’t really free them. The people in those countries had no freedom. We slowly woke up to who Stalin was. The Russians never left, including East Berlin, so World War II strengthened the Russians, it helped one problem, it created a worse one though, by increasing the strength of the Communists. Roosevelt was blamed for that but there wasn’t much he could do. It was said that Roosevelt gave too much away to Stalin at the 1945 Conference of Yalta,
but there really was very little he could do about it. They (the Communists) were there – they had occupied Eastern Europe – they had “boots on the ground.” We didn’t know then that Stalin had murdered millions of his own people, that he was a monster. In the early days, Truman even said, “I like Old Joe.”
Lisa: What else makes it an interesting period?
Carolyn: Outsized personalities of Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchhill – huge . Churchhill was a fabulous orator, Roosevelt knew about ships, had knowledge of the military, selected good generals. Hitler was a poor strategist; he entered all those countries at once. He told the generals what to do but he wasn’t good at military strategy. He was just a madman.
Lisa: To learn more, are there some books you would recommend?
Carolyn: Books about the period abound, certainly the biographies of those four men, stories of the war itself would be good.
Lisa: Does a particular book come to mind?
Carolyn: Kennedy’s thesis that became a book, While England Slept, No Ordinary Time, the Churchill bios by William Manchester – The Last Lion, A Man Called Intrepid…
Lisa: What films capture the flavor and the truth of the war?
Carolyn: “The Best Years of Our Lives” showed the problems of returning servicemen from the war. “Edge of Darkness,” with Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan depicts the Norwegian struggle. Norway was given away by the Quisling leader. The Norwegians had to fight Germany in an underground movement. There may be another movie, “A Moon is Down,” by John Steinbeck about occupied Norway, but I’ve not seen it.
Lisa: What else?
Carolyn: “Escape” which was a book by Ethel Vance, with Robert Taylor and Norma Shearer; “Night Train to Munich,” with Rex Harrison; and, of course, “Casablanca; “Ministry of Fear,” with Ray Milland; “Cloak and Dagger,” with Gary Cooper and Lily Palmer, “Watch on the Rhine,” with Bette Davis and Paul Lucas, and “OSS,” with Alan Ladd. All of those are great movies.
Lisa: What was it like to be a young girl in the war years?
Carolyn: In elementary school, our room would get the American flag for the week if our class bought the most war stamps and bonds that week. The classes competed to have the flag on display at the front of the room. It was a big deal. I was at Fisher School two years. Stamps were ten cents, bonds were $18.75 redeemable in ten years for $25. You had a book of stamps and you would try to fill the book with stamps. You would turn in a certain amount of stamps to redeem for a bond. That paid for the war! My grandparents sold cattle during the war years and they gave me money to do it because I was always a big stamp buyer. The government was smart to do that. It was an easy way for the government to get money from the citizens to finance, to fight the war. So many (citizens) had schoolchildren. While boys – women and men were fighting and dying in the war around the world – I was a young girl busy doing cartwheels in the front yard and joining little clubs – I was totally isolated. I didn’t know anyone who died in the war.
Lisa: Changing the subject, you wanted to say something about (actress) Carole Lombard.
Carolyn: Yes. Japan attacked us on Dec. 7, 1941. In January 1942 Carole Lombard went on a war bond tour – to Indiana I think. She wanted to get home to see (her husband and actor) Clark Gable afterward, in a hurry, because they had had a fight over Lana Turner. She insisted on flying out to California late at night when it was dark and foolish to fly over the Rockies. She should have waited for a better plan but she insisted on flying out. She crashed in her plane in the Rockies. She was only 33. All they found of her were her earrings. Clark went to the scene and was distraught. He was always a good drinker, but he isolated himself for a few days afterward or so and drank heavily before he came back out. Roosevelt said she (Lombard) was one of our first casualties of the war or maybe even first hero. Before she had left, she had said to Clark Gable, “Pappy, you need to join this man’s army (meaning the United States Army).” After she died, Gable did just that; he enlisted. He was about 41. He didn’t need to sign up. They were not drafting men of his age. But he was distraught and he did it. He was made a captain or something at the top – he became brass right away – he was too important to be just a regular fellow. He may have been in the Army but he was still a celebrity.
Lisa: Was Clark Gable decorated?
Carolyn: He was stationed in Great Britain, he was an officer, he may have been in some forays over Germany.
Lisa: What will we be talking about during your next visit to Lisa’s History Room?
Carolyn: What should we talk about? Should we talk about history?
Lisa: Well, if you had something you wanted to tell, what would it be?
Carolyn: I’d tell about the depression years. We had butter beans at Mother’s, and (my grandmother) Nona cooked cheap things, rice pudding, bread pudding, onions….the hobos, I don’t want to say that, the homeless people, they would come to the back door. Nona would give them a plate of food and they would to go and sit out under a tree in the backyard and eat their food. People weren’t afraid of other people back then.
Lisa: Okay, save those stories for next time. Thank you so much for stopping by today.
Carolyn: Well, bless your heart, you make me feel like a celebrity!