Shortages Plague Region As WWII Rages in October 1944
Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you're likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal , a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper's name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).
In June, the Allies had invaded France. In October, the U.S. First Army finally took the city of Aachen, Germany and proceeded with their invasion of Germany from the west, while the Red Army was operating in Prussia in the east.
On October 19, forces comprised of 250,000 men and 600 ships under the command of General Douglas McArthur and Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance invaded the Philippine Islands.
In Normandy, a gang of Queens soldiers at a U. S. Army hospital had been overseas so long that if they were dropped off at Queens Plaza, they probably would have gotten lost. One of them, Corporal Edward Bodenmiller, when asked his address, scratched his head and admitted he didn’t remember. There were 26 enlisted men and one nurse, all from Queens, in this outfit. All but two came into the Army at the same time in July 1942. Most of them came from draft boards 245 and 246. After being interviewed, several of them called out to the reporter: “Give our regards to Draft Board 245!”
Twenty-four of the enlisted men and the one nurse had set up the first U.S. Army hospital in Britain and operated it 24 months before following the invasion troops to France. The men had been in the same town in France for so long that they made many friends, and one of them, Pfc. Owen King of Thomson Hill, had acquired a wife.
On October 21, thousands of people lined the streets of Queens to watch President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s motorcade sweep by on its way to The Bronx and Manhattan in an unprecedented citywide tour. It was the first time since Pearl Harbor that a visit by FDR was announced in advance. More than 1,000 uniformed policemen lined the route.
In Astoria, the motorcade passed one of the most politically historic sites in the country the site of Schuetzen Park (then occupied by a furniture store) at Broadway and Steinway Street. In the large assembly hall which once stood in the park, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt had made some of the most important campaign addresses of their careers. All but Bryan had reached the White House.
On October 26, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and other dignitaries spoke from the platform of a huge concrete mixing machine in a ceremony to mark the beginning of the paving of the first 10,000-foot-long runway at Idlewild, which then was slated to be the largest airport in the world. LaGuardia also announced that the city had already made plans for a temporary administration building to be followed by a permanent administration building with ticket offices and passenger accommodations. The airport opened to commercial traffic in 1948.
In one of his Sunday radio broadcasts, Mayor LaGuardia launched a crusade to end smoking in subway cars and stations. At least 5,047 summonses for these offenses had been issued the previous year, and many in Queens had been fined. He further went on to ask restaurants to conserve butter by serving butter less lunches; urged consumers to not buy more choice meat cuts than they needed; reported that the Health Department would soon issue “drastic orders covering the entire city” to meet the menace of unleashed dogs; and decried the practice of shaking mops out of windows.
The nation experienced a shortage of children’s clothing so severe that in New York and other cities, it became virtually impossible to clothe a child completely from the stocks of leading retail stores. Merchants reported such a scarcity of diapers that some expressed wonder that there hadn’t been a unified outcry from new parents. The most acute shortage was in underwear for boys and girls between the ages of 2 and 14. The War Production Board ordered speedy production of 30,000,000 pieces of infants’ and children’s clothing between December 1, 1944 and February 28, 1945 and provided manufacturers with 40,000,000 yards of cotton materials. Parents seemed to be accepting the shortages philosophically as one of the inconveniences of wartime living. They got by using hand-me-downs and producing underwear and other items on their own sewing machines. This, of course, only created shortages of plain cotton cloth.
Two 15-year-old youths escaped from the Jamaica Children’s Shelter and were apprehended 52 hours later, but not before the boys confessed to committing 30 burglaries in that time period. Most of the jobs were gasoline stations, but apartments and Flushing H.S. were also entered. When they were caught, they had a mere $30 and some jewelry, candy and cigarettes, but had fenced two expensive wristwatches stolen in Woodside. Some of the break-ins were not even reported, as nothing was taken. Instead of their shelter clothing, they were found wearing new suits and neckties acquired by means of a Jamaica burglary. Their explanation for their escapades was that they were seeking funds for train fare to Arizona, but could give no reason why.
Playing at the movies were “Brother Rat,” starring Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman; “Tiger Shark,” starring Edward G. Robinson; “Suspicion,” starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, and “Dead End,” starring Humphrey Bogart.
That’s the way it was in October 1944!
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.