World War II


Chapter 17 -- Part 2

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Unfortunately, the horrors of World War I failed to dissuade the nations of the world from seeking peaceful means to settle their differences. The euphoria of the 1920s ended quickly with the stock market crash of 1929, and the whole world plunged into the Depression, giving rise to the militaristic and expansionist governments of Japan, Italy and Germany. These Axis powers, unchecked by appeasement-minded European nations and isolationist America, soon brought the world to the brink of another great conflict. The motives of these threatening nations were not unknown even in Hampton. In October 1933, a Union editorial entitled "Great Winds," issued the following prediction about the social, economic, and civic orders changing throughout the world:
"A glimpse of Mussolini and Hitler sends many of us into hysterics ..... The historic and beautiful town of Hampton cannot possibly escape the consequences of the great winds that are blowing unchecked over the surface of the earth ..... The near future will see other and more significant changes in the community life of Hampton. Those citizens who face these changes with a serene countenance, undismayed and unafraid, will be most helpful in shaping the future destinies of this, the recreational capital of New Hampshire."

It would be eight years before Hampton men and women risked their lives on foreign soil, but the Union's prediction would come true. First, though, Hampton residents had a few months of joy as the community celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1938, the largest and most successful event of its type ever held in the town.

Despite the simple pleasures of the historic pageant and parade, with their reminders of Indians, religious early settlers, witches, and other memories of the past, the people of Hampton viewed world events with concern and hoped somehow to remain out of the war. In a letter to the editor in June 1940, a V. W. Richards wrote, "We feel sure that every real American has his sympathies with the Allies and wants to see them victorious. But let us not let our sympathies take us into this maelstrom of destruction. Material aid is alright and we all want to cooperate with the President in his new [Lend-Lease] program, just so long as it does not entail sending anything more than war materials across the ocean." Believing that if the Germans were victorious, this country could continue without Europe, Richards concluded, "'America for Americans and Europe for Europeans.' It sound like a fine idea to me."

The letter writer was not alone in this idea. Since World War I, isolation had been the American approach to foreign affairs. We did not join the League of Nations because congressional leaders believed that we could go our own way; in fact, if we did not, they thought, surely we would become involved in the great conflict that seemed to be developing in Europe and Asia.

The people of Hampton could not ignore world events. In June 1940, the Union noted, three groups of small planes bound for the Allies flew over Hampton en route to Canada. A month later, young American aviator Raoul J. Bourgoin became lost in fog while flying his light military fighter along the coast. After circling the town and the Beach at a low altitude, he appeared to have his bearings but struck high wires at the Beach and crashed to his death in the marsh.

While the death of the young pilot was an accident, it and the nightly radio reports of the Battle of Britain brought to Hampton the realities of war, leading residents of this town to join with others along the seacoast to prepare for the worst. In the winter of 1940-41, residents of Hampton, North Hampton, Rye, Hampton Falls, and Seabrook formed the Civic Patrol to begin planning in the event of an attack on this country. In March, National Civic Patrol founder Miss Natalie Hays Hammond of Gloucester warned a Hampton audience, "Americans should apply for their gas-masks before it is too late and should learn to use them now."

Meanwhile, the prewar draft had begun in the fall of 1940. In this area there were 2,219 names listed (252 from Hampton), with Wilfred H. Lamott of Hampton Beach given serial number 1. At a drawing in Washington, the first number drawn (serial number 1) resulted in giving Lamott (and those in other draft districts) another number, which would indicate the order in which he would be called up. After the numbers were drawn and sent to New Hampshire's 20 local draft boards, the draftees were sent eight-page questionnaires to fill out to determine their fitness for service. Draftees who wondered what life was like in the service could read occasional reports sent to the Union from the town's first military volunteer, Richard Rice, who was stationed at Camp Hulen, Texas.

Although America was not yet in the war, patriotic fervor was sweeping the community. In June 1940, a "Dinner for Democracy" was held at the Beach, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and the Men's Fellowship of the First Congregational Church and attended by Governor Robert O. Blood and Senator Styles Bridges. Hampton observed Good Citizenship Sunday in November, when a French refugee addressed a large service held in the newly opened high school. Throughout the year, the Union offered a variety of patriotic editorials. One, entitled "Our Danger from War," cautioned citizens to prepare for the worst but to beware of measures taken to restrict individual liberties. "When there's a war on, the Government takes command of the people's liberties -- for the time being ....[but] It is never easy to get men in power to let go of the right to dictate to the people after the war necessity for such dictation has passed. We are preparing for war. We believe we may have to fight to save democracy. We must beware lest we lose it in trying to save it."

Hampton residents followed the lead of many other communities, forming a local unit of "Bundles for Britain,"an organization composed primarily of women who made bandages, sewed and knitted a variety of clothing, and collected used clothing and other needed items for residents of war-torn England. Organized in January 1941 by Mrs. Alfred Rosser, the local group met weekly for sewing parties and also held fund-raising events. A Bundles for Britain booth was set up at the Beach to solicit donations of money and other needed items. Meanwhile the local Red Cross volunteers met every Wednesday afternoon to make surgical dressings. Each worker had to wear a white smock or dress and a white head covering of some type. From February through April, the local women made 7,503 surgical dressings.

Some 450 local people -- along with Governor Blood, Senator Bridges, and a host of other local, county, and state officials -- attended another "Dinner for Democracy" in the high school gymnasium. Both Blood and Bridges called on America to strengthen the national defense.

In July 1941, local enlistees Rolvin Coombs and Lincoln Akerman left for basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Akerman had been married only one month earlier. Meanwhile, Police Chief Jerome Harkness and Armas Guyon were appointed by Governor Blood to head the town Defense Committee, which was charged with making plans for responding to any war emergencies.

Doctor Charles B. Bailey, who had volunteered for navy shore duty so that he could work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard dispensary while continuing to carry on his private practice in the five-town area, unexpectedly received active sea-duty orders in October 1941. Townspeople immediately organized a petition drive, which collected 1,000 signatures and appealed to the congressional delegation to intercede with the navy to reverse the order. One week later, the order was reversed.

In late November 1941, the Hampton Defense Committee began organizing an auxiliary fire department; just days later came the Sunday attack on Pearl Harbor, and on the following Wednesday night, some 500 residents turned out for a mass defense meeting. More than 300 people had already signed up for various defense units, such as the first aid, auxiliary police and fire, motor corps, air-raid wardens, nursing and medical corps, Red Cross, canteen, and registration and clerical. Many people volunteered for more than one unit.

Air-raid precaution lectures were given weekly to train air-raid wardens and the American Legion Commander asked for more volunteers to serve a shift at the listening post, a tower built on High Street where volunteers were on duty listening for enemy airplanes. Defense volunteers were fingerprinted by the police and required to take an oath of allegiance. (Schoolchildren also were fingerprinted so that, in the event of an enemy bombing attack, victims could be identified.) Forrest Parker, mechanical arts teacher at the high school, made 50 20-inch "billies" for the auxiliary police officers. Hampton did not have an air-raid siren, but in the event of attack, the church bells and town bell would be rung and the police and fire chiefs would drive through town blaring their sirens. In late January 1942, air-raid wardens were assigned to 18 Hampton districts, and residents were given a list of "blackout" rules. On March 29, 1942, Hampton joined with other Rockingham County towns to hold a trial blackout, which proved to be "100 percent effective." A month later, the entire seacoast was ordered to be "dimmed out" at night so that American ships traveling along the coast would not be silhouetted against coastal lights and therefore become easier prey for enemy submarines. At Hampton Beach, shop owners built shields in front of stores to hide their lights. Drivers were asked to use only parking lights and to maintain a 15 mph speed limit.

Under the direction of Dr. Wayne P. Bryer, the Civilian Defense medical unit equipped six ambulances for emergency duty, and the basement of the high school was established as the medical center, where as many as 50 people could be treated for up to a week. In 1943, Bryer closed his practice when he was drafted.

With the war now underway, the Bundles for Britain group was changed to a Bundles for America organization, making needed items for American military personnel then in training. Between January 10 and February 11, 1942, women members knitted 4,449 items for members of three military outfits. Each woman had made between 170 and 233 articles during the month-long period. The group was given a mobile canteen trailer for use during the emergencies, and it was also set up at the Beach during the summer to give lunches to visiting servicemen and women. The Hampton Garden Club began organizing to promote victory gardens. Several civic groups began letter-writing programs for service men and women, and Eloise Lane Smith organized regular meetings for the mothers, wives, and other family members of men and women in military service.

Residents were asked to collect and turn in old rubber, especially used automobile tires. Hampton residents contributed 76,000 pounds to the scrap-metal drive. The navy announced regulations restricting the use of pleasure craft along the coast, rules that shut down Hampton's party-boat fleet. Boat owners were asked to keep their vessels in repair in case of a war emergency, and skippers could not leave the harbor without a permit from the local Captain of the Port.

One aspect of the war that most civilians clearly remember is rationing. To save gasoline for the war effort, the state highway speed limits was lowered to 40 mph in early April 1942, but other measures were soon required to meet the needs of America's growing navy and army. Late in April 1942, residents had to register for sugar ration cards "so that all may have some and none will go without." In Hampton, 2,257 ration cards were issued by May 14. Soon afterward, gasoline and tire rationing began. Motorists requested gas ration books based on their monthly mileage. More than 47 percent of Hampton's 615 registrants requested the "B-3" card, which provided 57 gallons of gas for a 45-day period beginning July 1. Other categories ranged from unlimited mileage down to 21 gallons for the rationing period. Eventually this system was changed so that each driver received the same amount of gas rations; drivers who required more gas had to argue their case before the ration board. Workers were urged to set up car pools to save gas. Fuel oil was rationed when the heating season began. Even with ration cards, drivers were not free to use their vehicles as they pleased. In February 1943, a state government news release suggested, "Driving to a prizefight, for example, may warrant a 30-day suspension of your gas ration, but driving to a concert is not as bad."

More than 450 people attended another "Dinner for Democracy" on June 4 at the high school. Outspoken newspaper columnist Bill Cunningham flayed away at politicians, especially Congress, for bogging downs the war effort, but he praised the actions of the servicemen and women "who are fighting for us in distant lands and [we] must hold this country together by not losing here while they are winning 'over there'." Governor Blood told the gathering that 10 percent of New Hampshire industry had been converted to the war effort, generating more than $100 million in war orders.

The entire eastern seaboard was designated as a military area in May, but by following various "dimout" regulations, which were enforced by chief blackout officer Joseph P. Kennedy, Hampton Beach operated in near prewar fashion. In fact, because gas rationing prohibited distant travel, and because thousands of military men and workers were at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the Beach became a popular destination for New Englanders. The Beach enjoyed record crowds and booming business throughout the war years. At the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet in 1942, a season-long war-bond drive was announced, to culminate with a "Victory Week" celebration replacing the traditional Carnival Week. The total amount of bonds sold during the summer was not listed, but during the final day of Victory Week, $65,000 worth of bonds was sold in a three-hour period. Mostly $50 bonds were sold, but two $5,000 bonds and many $1,000 bonds were purchased by patriotic citizens. Helping in the sale was Hollywood star Harry Stockwell, the "voice" of Prince Charming in the Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

New and more stringent dimout regulations went into effect on November 30, 1942, and while most people obeyed the rules, one anonymous air-raid warden decried the "token" patriots, including one unnamed man who refused to cooperate by allowing light to shine through uncurtained windows. At the end of 1942, federal rent-control regulations were established and applied to all rental property, including boardinghouses and hotels. These regulations apparently were aimed at protecting war workers from landlords who might attempt to increase rents in areas of military-related industries where housing was limited.

Although a few surprise air-raid tests and blackouts were conducted in the first nine months of 1943, the dimout regulations were lifted by November 1 because the Allies were making battle-front progress against the Axis powers and the threat of attack seemed remote.

Hampton continued its victory garden program. Of 150 people surveyed in the spring of 1943, 143 families planned to raise gardens. Kenneth Ross donated space for several gardens at Hampton Beach; along Moulton Road, James Hutchings provided space for a community garden, as did Frank Mason behind his place on High Street. Another war-bond drive was underway at Hampton Beach, culminating in a September dance at the Casino. The Hampton Kiwanis Club, using glass banks placed in both Village and Beach stores and shops, collected enough money to purchase 40,000 cigarettes to send to overseas military personnel. Meanwhile, the Red Cross was raising $2,500 as Hampton's goal toward the continuation of nationwide blood-collection centers.

War-bond drives and the work of the Bundles for America organization and the Red Cross continued throughout 1944 and early 1945, as reports from the war zones indicated that victory was near. On May 10, 1945, the Union headlined, "Restrained Joy and Reverence Mark V-E Day Observances in States." Special programs and services were held in local churches and the schools to celebrate the Allies' victory over Germany, but the war against Japan continued, and citizens continued to work for the war effort. In June, another war-bond drive was begun, but when the army announced plans to rent out formerly important but then abandoned coastal installations -- such as the watch tower on Boar's Head -- local people began to feel that the long conflict was drawing to a conclusion.

On August 16, 1945, the Union proclaimed, "Unrestrained Joy and Reverence Mark End of Second World Conflict. Joyful Celebrations Mark Long Awaited Jap Surrender." At the Beach, the news was greeted with a celebration. "At 7 o'clock on Tuesday evening the announcement that World War II was finally over let loose the largest celebration seen in Hampton in many years. The bedlam lasted far into the night, stopping only because the joyous people became exhausted." When the war-ending announcement was given, stores and the Casino immediately closed and residents and tourists milled about in front of the bandstand. There Hal McDonnell and his band gave a rousing concert, although the music could hardly be heard over the noise of firecrackers, cheers, and noisemakers. People sang, danced, paraded with wash tubs used as drums, and threw confetti, releasing the emotions stored up after three and a half years of war.

As joyful as the war's end was to all Hampton residents the victory brought with it the memories of men and women who served and survived and of those who gave their lives in combat. Although men over age 28 had been given a deferment before America entered the war, registration was held in February 1942 for all men between the ages of 20 and 45. Soon young men began to leave for distant points, where they had basic training prior to reporting for military duty. Ironically, the first draftee from Hampton was the first local man killed in the war. Newlywed Lincoln Akerman, a native of Hampton Falls, was living in Hampton with his wife when he joined the service. He was the first local man to be sent overseas and the first local soldier to become a father. His son, Brian, was born in September 1942, just two months before his father was killed "somewhere in the South Pacific." The Hampton Falls school has been named in Akerman's memory.

In February 1943, a service flag was dedicated to enlisted personnel during a Sunday ceremony held at the high school and sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. A gold star was placed on the flag in memory of Akerman. In April, another gold star was added to Hampton's honor roll when Richard T. Raymond, who grew up in Hampton and joined the merchant marine about 1933, was lost when his convoy ship was sunk in the North Atlantic. In mid-1944, Robert W. Naves, an accomplished commercial artist and the Troop 177 scoutmaster, died following a Jeep accident while under fire in China. Other names would join the gold-star list -- boys who had grown up in Hampton and others whose parents lived here. James R. Garnett, Jr., was killed in Tennessee in a flight-training crash. One member of the guard of honor at Garnett's Hampton funeral was Richard W. Blake, who was killed in Europe just weeks before the war ended. John R. Bigelow, a two-year resident of Hampton and a longtime summer resident of North Beach, also was killed in Europe. In September, pilot Neil R. Underwood of Hampton Beach was reported missing in action over France. The Hampton River Bridge was renamed in his memory.

Often the Union would print stories about the battle performances of local men, and occasionally parents would share letters from their sons. Ironically, a number of these men became casualties. Young Harry Parr, Jr., wrote to his parents in October 1944, describing his activities in Germany with the Army Engineers. The Union printed a local honor roll each week on the front page. Young Parr received a gold star in December, as did Roland M. Gray, the first member of the high-school class of 1941 to die in the war. He was killed in Belgium in 1944. In June 1945, the parents of John Cuss, who had been reported missing in action in 1942, learned their son had died in a Japanese prison camp in June 1942. A French train wreck in July 1945, after the European war had ended, claimed the life of Robert K. White. Navigator Edward W. Tobey died in the Pacific in June 1945 when his B-29, scheduled for a bombing run over Japan, crashed on takeoff. Ironically, navigator Norman M. Dearborn, who had flown over Tokyo Bay while the peace treaty with Japan was being signed, died in December 1945 when his plane crashed in Okinawa. He was the tenth Hampton man killed as a result of the war. Most of these men have been honored by the Town, which has named streets and a bridge in their memory. For the families of Naves, Blake, White, Cuss, and Parr, the war would not end until the fall of 1948, when their bodies finally were returned to this country for burial. A double funeral was held for classmates White and Blake, while Naves was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A number of Hampton's military personnel survived battle injuries and imprisonment by the Germans and Japanese. In late May 1944, Union readers learned of Lieutenant Neil J. Coady's first bombing run over the Ploesti oilfields in Romania; three weeks later, he was reported missing in action and became a prisoner of war, a two-year ordeal that he survived. It was the story of army nurse Rita G. Palmer, however, that captured local attention throughout the conflict. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Palmer, Rita Palmer completed her nurse's training in 1939 and joined the Army Nurse Corps in June 1941. Sent to the Philippines as a volunteer, she fled Bataan when the Japanese attacked, then was incorrectly reported to be safe in Australia. She was listed as missing in May 1942 after the fall of Corregidor. It was not until November 1943 that her parents and Union readers learned that nurse Palmer had been seen caring for other American prisoners in a Philippines internment camp. Although she had been slightly injured in the attack on Bataan, she was relatively well treated by her captors at first. The Santo Tomas prison camp was on the grounds of a university, and nearby were stores where the nurses and other prisoners could buy needed items. Early in 1944, however, the gates were closed and prisoners were denied contact with the outside world. Palmer and the other nurse prisoners continued to care for injured and sick Americans in the camp throughout the war, despite shortages of clothing and ever-diminishing amounts of food. When she was liberated by the American forces in January 1945, Palmer was weak from hunger and dressed only in shorts and pajama tops. She returned to Hampton in March and was greeted by 1,000 well-wishers. Lieutenant Palmer, who remained in the army for a while after the war, was one of the most decorated women to serve in the war. The courageous story of the nurses in the prison camp was made into a 1988 television movie.

Another decorated Hampton nurse was Elizabeth H. Hay, who had been the school nurse prior to the war. She volunteered in 1943 and eventually was sent to England. She received the Bronze Star for "meritorious action under fire" during the Normandy invasion. Eventually promoted to the rank of major, she became chief nurse at many field hospitals near the front, caring for American as well as German prisoners. During the battles involved with crossing the Rhine River, more than 150 patients passed through her hospital every 24 hours. She was General George Patton's nurse prior to his death from an automobile accident, and she was at the Buchenwald concentration camp four days after it was liberated. Ambulatory survivors of that camp were treated at her hospital.

On Armistice Day 1946, Hampton dedicated its World War II honor roll. In November 1948, Luigi Marelli was feted at a party at the high school by 200 residents who expressed gratitude for his support of servicemen and women during the war. With no publicity and at his own expense, Marelli sent more than 50 Christmas baskets annually to Hampton boys in the armed services.

[The World War II Memorial is located in front of the Hampton District Court House at 132 Winnacunnet Road, Hampton, NH]

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