Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children


Looking out a second-story window of her family's quarters at the Pearl Harbor naval base on December 7, 1941, eleven-year-old Jackie Smith could see not only the Rising Sun insignias on the wings of attacking Japanese bombers, but the faces of the pilots inside. Most American children on the home front during the Second World War saw the enemy only in newsreels and the pages of Life Magazine, but from Pearl Harbor on, "the war"--with its blackouts, air raids, and government rationing--became a dramatic presence in all of their lives. Thirty million Americans relocated, 3,700,000 homemakers entered the labor force, sparking a national debate over working mothers and latchkey children, and millions of enlisted fathers and older brothers suddenly disappeared overseas or to far-off army bases. By the end of the war, 180,000 American children had lost their fathers. In "Daddy's Gone to War", William M. Tuttle, Jr., offers a fascinating and often poignant exploration of wartime America, and one of generation's odyssey from childhood to middle age. The voices of the home front children are vividly present in excerpts from the 2,500 letters Tuttle solicited from men and women across the country who are now in their fifties and sixties. From scrap-collection drives and Saturday matinees to the atomic bomb and V-J Day, here is the Second World War through the eyes of America's children. Women relive the frustration of always having to play nurses in neighborhood war games, and men remember being both afraid and eager to grow up and go to war themselves. (Not all were willing to wait. Tuttle tells of one twelve year old boy who strode into an Arizona recruiting office and declared, "I don't need my mother's consent...I'm a midget.") Former home front children recall as though it were yesterday the pain of saying good-bye, perhaps forever, to an enlisting father posted overseas and the sometimes equally unsettling experience of a long-absent father's return. A pioneering effort to reinvent the way we look at history and childhood, "Daddy's Gone to War" views the experiences of ordinary children through the lens of developmental psychology. Tuttle argues that the Second World War left an indelible imprint on the dreams and nightmares of an American generation, not only in childhood, but in adulthood as well. Drawing on his wide-ranging research, he makes the case that America's wartime belief in democracy and its rightful leadership of the Free World, as well as its assumptions about marriage and the family and the need to get ahead, remained largely unchallenged until the tumultuous years of the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and Watergate. As the hopes and expectations of the home front children changed, so did their country's. In telling the story of a generation, Tuttle provides a vital missing piece of American cultural history.


Born in 1937, I was a homefront child. My father went into the Army in late 1942 and returned three years later; we had all changed a lot in the interim. I remember many things about wartime: pulling my wagon around the block and collecting bundles of old newspapers, playing war games in the lot next to our house in Detroit, and sitting with my mother in the kitchen listening to the war news on the radio. Both radio and the movies were important parts of my homefront world. Monday through Friday, there were the late-afternoon radio adventure shows in which American heroes pursued enemy spies and saboteurs. And I remember trying never to miss a Saturday matinee at the Norwest, our local movie theater; for three to four hours, the war was a frequent theme in feature films, cartoons, serials, and newsreels.

When we were not playing war in the side lot, we were doing so on the playground of the Peter Vetal School, three blocks from my home. At Vetal, there was a deep division between the middle-class children and the working-class children. In large part, we in the middle class lived on one side of the school, while blue-collar families, including recent arrivals from the southern Appalachians, lived on the other side. I got to know Tommy Fields, whose family had moved to Detroit from Kentucky. We were in the same class, and I visited his house on the other side of the school; I do not think he ever visited mine, but I never thought about it at the time.

Looking back, I see that during the war my little brother George and I lived in a family of women headed by my mother, grandmother, and older sister Susan. Ours was a peaceful household and, from my perspective, a happy one. But I wondered what our lives would be like when my father returned home, and I wondered what he would be like. I did have a V-mail Christmas card that he sent me in 1944 from France, picturing Santa Claus driving a Jeep filled with presents; but I had few memories of him.

In the autumn of 1945, my father re-entered our lives. Forty years old and a major, he arrived sporting both a mustache and the Legion of Merit, which he had earned for his two years as a combat thoracic surgeon in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. The more I think about my father's service, particularly in light of what we later learned about the horrors of battle in Vietnam, the more I appreciate the psychic toll which the war took on him.

I was seven when my father came home. Because I had not really known him before he left for the Army, I could not tell how the war had affected him. My father for whom I am named was loud and regaled in storytelling; he liked to laugh, and I enjoyed him when he was having fun. Around him, however, I was usually very shy; I was an outgoing boy and very active, but I think he scared me. We had missed important years together, and we never bridged the gap. My father . . .

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