8. What are some of your indelible memories about World War II and the decade known as “The Fighting Forties”
[Note: According to the weather records, it was a mild Sunday in Washington, D.C., on December 7, 1941. The temperatures were in the 40’s]
It was my BIG 13th birthday–the day I officially became a teenager! As was usual in our motherless household, We didn’t have much, so Dad didn’t do much to celebrate birthdays or for that matter other holidays with me and my two younger sisters. But that birthday, dad gave me a whopping $5!
[NOTE: Adjusted for inflation, $5.00 in 1941 is equal to $91.13 today; a loaf of bread cost about 8 cents; a gallon of milk was about 54 cents. Sounds cheap compared to today’s prices, but keep in mind that in 1941 the average wage was about $60 for a 40 hour week; the average hourly wage was about $1.44. Today the average wage is much higher, at about $22.50 an hour. ]
Upon receiving the gift of money, I immediately sped off about a half a mile away with my best friend, Howard Vincent Morgan, aka “Buster,” to our favorite Little Tavern Shop (655 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E. Washington, DC), to buy some of their famous 5¢ hamburgers. I don’t recall much more about the details of that day, or how I saved or spent the remainder of my birthday money.
On Monday, December 8, 1941, my day was far more memorable and the ensuing next four years would always affect the rest of our lives. Devastating news reached us during my eighth grade recess at Stuart Junior High. It was the news of Japan’s bombing of the United States Military Base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii on the early morning of my big birthday. The global headlines in newspapers that day wrote about the hideous premeditated attack on Pearl Harbor, the casualties and losses of our men and military machinery, and of Japan’s declaration of war against the United States.
President Roosevelt and Congress on the next day (Tuesday, December 9), declared war against Japan and two days later, our country also declared war against Germany and Italy! How’s that for a birthday event to be forever remembered!!
Americans were extremely patriotic back in those days. And it showed when so many of its men – young and old – enlisted in the army, navy, and marines to serve their country.
[Note: From the history of Pearl Harbor’s website: “As support increased from military around the world, the number of soldiers, sailors and marines increased to more than 135,000 people (double the amount that was there before the attack….”.]
My Uncle, Frank Embrey Boling, 11-years-younger brother of my dad, Jesse Burton Boling, was one of those young men who served his country during World War II and gave his all. Uncle Frank had grown up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and was 15 years old when his mother (my grandmother), died in 1928–the year I was born.
[Note: In 1937, Frank Embrey Boling was 24 when he married his wife, Alvena Ruth Peterman, in Washington, D.C.; 25 when his daughter Linda was born in 1938; 26 when he registered for the draft where he achieved a status of Seaman First Class in the U.S. Naval Reserves; and, 30 when he was called into active duty, assigned to the newly commissioned USS Johnston Destroyer.
The following few paragraphs are excerpts from the naval history pages: “This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.” Those were the words of Commander Ernest. E. Evans on 27 October 1943, the day the USS Johnston (DD-557) was commissioned, in Seattle, Washington.
On Oct. 20, 1944, Johnston joined Seventh Fleet’s Escort Task Unit 77.4—call sign “Taffy 3”—to defend the north Leyte Gulf, east of Samar and off San Bernardino Strait, and the Leyte beachhead for General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. On 25 October 1944, a pilot reported the powerful Japanese Carrier Force steaming into Leyte Gulf heading directly towards the Johnston and her small escort carrier task unit.
Noticing the Japanese ships were targeting escort carrier Gambier Bay (CVE-73), Commander Evans gave the order to “commence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from Gambier Bay.” One by one, Johnston took on Japanese destroyers, although Johnston had no torpedoes and limited firepower. After two-and-a-half hours, Johnston—dead in the water—was surrounded by enemy ships. At 9:45 a.m., Evans gave the order to abandon ship. Twenty-five minutes later, on October 25, 1944, the destroyer rolled over and began to sink.
Of the crew of 327, only 141 survived. Of the 186 lost, about 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died on rafts from battle injuries and 92, including Evans, were alive in the water after Johnston sank, but were never heard from again.
My Uncle Frank was among those sailors alive in the water after his ship, the Johnston, sank . As with the others, he was never heard from again. He was 30 years old, just two months shy of turning 31. He left a wife of 6 years, a 5-year-old daughter, and a large number of other Boling family members in and around Virginia to mourn his death. His name is engraved on the Presidio in San Francisco–the World War II Memorial to the Missing.
[Note: Against a backdrop of Monterey pine and cypress trees, a gently curved wall of California granite bears the names of 412 servicemen and women who were lost or buried at sea in U.S. Pacific waters between 1941 and 1945.
On October 31, 2019, (a few days past the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Samar), researchers from Vulcan Inc.’s research vessel R/V Petrel believe they’ve found wreckage from the engagement’s famed Fletcher-class destroyer, USS Johnston (DD-557), 20,406 feet deep in the Philippine Sea in close proximity to where it originally went down.]
Uncle Frank posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
I quit school when I was 13, shortly after I started eighth grade at Stuart Junior High. My first part-time job was at Peoples Drug Store (now known by the chain name “CVS Pharmacy”). I earned 40¢ an hour and I remember using my first paycheck to buy babydolls for my sisters Delores (11) and Barbara (9). It made me feel really good to give to my family.
[Note: Unbeknownst to me until this interview, my dad’s first job and mine were for the same company–although at different locations: Peoples Drug Store. I was 17 when I went to work. I earned $1.15 an hour and worked behind the soda fountain.]
In 1944, shortly after our estranged mother died at age 32, I met my wife Norma. She and I were inseparable from the first moment we got together.
Norma’s brother, John Austin Ford, also enlisted right out of high school in 1943 and fought in WWII. The Invasion of Italy was fought September 3-16, 1943, during World War II (1939-1945). During the course of the invasion, Allied forces sustained 2,009 killed, 7,050 wounded, and 3,501 missing while German casualties numbered around 3,500. John was one of those wounded. Unfortunately, he lost his left eye. Following his injuries, he was awarded the Bronze Star, and Purple Heart Medals for his valor during the battle. Johnny passed away at the young age of 37, leaving a wife, a 15-year-old son, John, Jr., a daughter, Susan, age 6, and a 5-month-old baby girl, Tammy, all of whom he loved dearly.
[VE day (Victory in Europe day) is held annually on May 8th. It commemorates the end of the Second World War in Europe, when the forces of Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied forces. The Japanese continued to fight the Americans until August 15th 1945. This date is known as VJ day (Victory in Japan day).
[Following President Truman’s August 14, 1945, announcement of Japan’s acceptance of surrender terms, on September 2, 1945, a formal surrender ceremony was performed in Tokyo Bay, Japan, aboard the battleship USS Missouri. This was the formal end to WWII.
Norma and I heard the news of the official end of the way while on our way to Little Tavern for more of their tasty burgers.
In 1946, Norma and I eloped to Ellicott City, Maryland, to get married . My best friend Buster Morgan and his mother were our witnesses at the Court House, in front of the Justice of the Peace. And, you might have guessed it, we went to the Little Tavern for burgers after the service!
My life with Norma lasted a total of 74 years–until her death on March 16, 1918. We were each other’s rocks, surviving all the good celebrations and the bad times (WWII, the Korean, Vietnam Wars, the ongoing crises with the Middle East, including 9/11) that most lifelong couples experience. But, I fear these are the worst of all times. Norma is no longer here to share these times, the world seems so much more hostile than my past memories, and Americans don’t seem as committed to old-time values and patriotism as they were in times past.