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The unsung heroes of World War II

The Reporter's Notebook


Last updated 3/31/2021 at 7:55am

If you asked someone who the heroes of World War II were, you would probably get FDR, Gen. MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Patton, and so on.

And they would be correct.

But what about the unsung heroes?

The kids across America did their part in the winning of World War II.

They became a gigantic salvage yard operation in collecting aluminum, rubber and iron, and buying Savings stamps and bonds.

When the country was asked to bring in salvage items to help the war effort, millions of young boys and girls really rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

They flooded salvage stations with thousands of tons of just what Uncle Sam needed.

There was a certain pride in collecting needed materials.

A lot of housewives suddenly started missing aluminum pans, all going to the war effort.

I copped a couple of my mother’s aluminum pans but was scared to touch Mom’s aluminum teapot. That occupied a permanent place on the old cookstove.

In regard to the aluminum pans, my mother probably wouldn’t have taken comfort if I would have suggested that maybe her pans were part of one of our bombers and being flown over France and Germany, helping to end the war.

Millions of kids played an important role in salvage materials. 

In Palouse, we would work the Palouse River, when it was super low in the summer, and pull out old rubber tires that had been discarded by tossing them in the river. It was an early environmental project, though we didn’t know it at the time.

I don’t know why people then discarded things in the river, but it was the Mecca for us.

We would roll the old tires or stack them on our wagons and take them to the place where we would get money for them.

The iron was another matter. People tossed iron parts everywhere. The old iron was more difficult to handle because of the weight.  

We spent a lot of time mining the aluminum, rubber and iron, and made good money doing so.

I had a special incentive, having three older brothers in the service, all serving overseas.

There were no bone spurs in our family.

After getting paid for our efforts, we bought savings stamps and later turned them in for savings bonds.

It would have been interesting to know how much material was gathered by kids, and what the government did with all the materials.

We took our materials to a local welding and implement repair place and always treated as if what we were doing was important. We thought it was.

We didn’t care at the time if the items we collected and sold were being used and still had shelf life. If Uncle Sam said he needed aluminum, rubber and iron, we were going to provide it. The salvage was highly competitive, and we would go to extraordinary tactics to beat each other to the materials.

I remember filling booklets of savings stamps and feeling a certain pride when turning them in for a savings bond.  And I had a few to turn in when the bonds matured.

There was a feeling of pulling one’s weight.

For me, I had two brothers in the Pacific Theater and one in Europe.

An occasional letter from them would sometimes hint at where they were, but the censors were good at what they did. It was only later, much later, that we learned a bit of what they went through; but they didn’t want to talk about it.

Later, I learned that most veterans don’t like to talk about their service but are proud that they served.

But the kids are hardly ever mentioned, although they performed a valuable service to the country. No medals for this work.

The army of kids that collected surplus materials proved their citizenship and made an important contribution to the war effort.


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