Our Century City...June, 1944...Red Roses, Maroon Ties, And INVASION!!!

Toy aircraft, afghan, Army hat and LHS yearbook represent 1944 Lakewood. (Photo by Gary Rice)

Springtime, 1944.

As Lakewood High seniors prepared to don their maroon ties and red roses for graduation, Allied forces were also preparing to invade Northern Europe on June 6th, 1944. Lakewood High School students had been very active in the war effort, selling enough war stamps and bonds to purchase two ambulance planes and hospital equipment. Students also donated knitted and crocheted Afghans, and countless old newspapers to the cause of victory. The "V for Victory" hand sign popularized by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was seen everywhere. There was, particularly after the D-Day invasion, a feeling that the end of World War II was in sight. At the same time, Lakewood's Cinema high school yearbook soberly printed the names of 29 young men from Lakewood High who had already given their lives to the war effort since America's war involvement officially began in 1941.

Strict wartime rationing was still in play and nearby factories were churning out classified war materials in staggering amounts. Products such as gasoline, rubber tires, sugar, and objects made of metal would be in short supply for Lakewoodites for as long as the war lasted. Attics and basements had already been cleared of any clutter that could be otherwise donated to the war effort. Physical Education classes were actively operating in high gear, preparing male students for the likelihood of military service upon their graduation. In short? It was wartime, and the Lakewood High School Class of 1944 was well aware that many of the usual hopes and dreams of graduation would need to be put on hold until peace arrived.

Still, few at that time had any doubt that peace was indeed on the horizon. Enemy forces were on the defensive in virtually every theater of war by 1944, and while there would be many difficult and costly days to come, there was little concern about the war's outcome bringing anything other than total victory for the Allies.

Lakewood High School's golden tan Cinema yearbook for 1944 detailed many facts about Lakewood as it was back then, 70 years ago this month. In many ways, our city was remarkable similar to today. You could have purchased your ice cream cone at Malleys, (although at that time, the store was located at Lewis and Madison) and even then, "Charley" Geiger was more than happy to fit you out in a well-tailored suit.  You could also have visited the Lakewood "Y" anytime you wanted to. Many, if not most of the churches around now were around back then, and the Masonic Temple was a regular meeting place for after-school fun times. Lakewood's reputation as a walkable city was never more important than in those days, and wire two-wheeled shopping carts and basket-equipped bicycles were an absolute necessity at that time of gasoline rationing. Indeed back then, small grocery stores and many other specialty shops were commonplace, east and west, in Lakewood. There were theaters all around Lakewood too, as movies and newsreels were a prime source of information and entertainment at a time when newspapers and radios were the principal ways to stay informed concerning the events of the day. Publication of the high school newspaper, and the Cinema, were continued even with the shortages of wartime, due to the importance, and indeed, the essential necessity of having the free press in a democracy.

One huge difference between those public school days and now, was a 2 page Cinema spread given to the well-organized Christian-values Hi-Y group, with a photo displaying their unashamed and explicitly Christian celebrations and rituals transpiring in front of a picture of Jesus Christ. Years later, America's Supreme Court would seriously limit many such organized religious practices in the public schools.

As a student back then, you also noticed a change in your high school cafeteria menu, due to the war. Gone for the duration were the rich breaded dishes like veal steaks and city chicken. Instead, according to the Cinema, your menu offered more egg and soya products. Evening dinners too, had once been served in the schools, and those too, were discontinued because of the war. If you were a student, you likely did not have the time to sit down for an evening meal anyway. Instead, you went off to a job someplace. A shortage of workers due to the war effort insured that high school students had plenty of gainful employment opportunities around here. Many worked as home helpers- cutting grass, raking leaves, painting and making minor repairs to homes while the menfolk were away fighting the war. Babysitting was also big business for students, due to the fact that many Moms were also quite busy helping out with the war effort.

 Perhaps surprisingly, it would not have been unusual to hear the sound of well-disciplined gunfire echoing from Lakewood's school gymnasiums after classes were concluded. Neither would it have been unusual to see a student under supervision walking down the hallway after school, gun in hand, preparing for a shooting match. In our Lakewood School gymnasiums, students hunkered down on their mats, and on command, loaded their .22 target rifles, and prepared to fire at the bulls eyes down range. Before long, and in the constitutionally guaranteed traditions of an American citizen militia, every bulls eye had been safely, but utterly...destroyed. For the squeamish out there reading all this, you have to understand those times. It was one thing to have to send young men off to war, but in here in Lakewood, we wanted them to leave us prepared, and to come back to us alive- and victorious.

For everyone, in any case, the winds of change in Lakewood and in the world were starting to blow with the force of a hurricane.

After WWII, President Eisenhower's ever-expanding American freeway system cut straight through Lakewood in much the same way as that Japanese destroyer cut through future President Kennedy's PT-109 boat during WWII. With new super-highways, and with relatively cheap gasoline and credit, it became easier for people to live farther away from their jobs. In the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's there was a huge rush to get farther and farther away from the core cities to the outer 'burbs and beyond, as people valued space more than social interaction. In those outer 'burbs, front porches and sidewalks became afterthoughts, as many Americans sought out instead to live in insulated cocoons in their spread-out bedroom communities. As a pastor friend once told me, many of Lakewood's movers and shakers got shook up and moved.

In the last few years however, we've been seeing a reverse of that trend, as the economy, gasoline prices, and yes, even nostalgia for days past, has brought many people back to homes in Lakewood. Indeed, much remains here that is timeless, and preciously- not so very different from those tumultuous days of 1944.

Read More on Pulse of the City
Volume 10, Issue 12, Posted 6:28 PM, 06.10.2014