October 26, ’42…Today is our 8th anniversary. Little did we dream 8 years ago we would be in the army, living in Miami Beach.
This entry in my mother’s diary started me thinking of the effect WWII had on my parents and America. By reading her diaries and family letters I pieced together some of what they experienced during war time. The entries which are italicized are from letters and diaries of 1941 – 1943.
My parents, Maxwell Lee Shahan and Evelyn Elizabeth Morgan, married in 1934 in Knoxville, Tennessee. They had known each other all their lives as both families had close ties to the rural village of Villanow, Georgia, 36 miles south of Chattanooga.
Daddy graduated from Georgia Tech with a master’s degree in Civil Engineering two months before they wed. His job with the newly developed Tennessee Valley Authority took them to Murphy, North Carolina, Kingsport, Tennessee, and back home to Chattanooga. It was there that my brothers were born, Lee in 1937 and Larry in 1939.
Sunday, December 7, 1941, at 7:53 a.m. the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. The United States and Britain declare war on Japan, December 8, 1941.
December 8, ’41…Japan bombed Hawaiian Islands yesterday.
December 10, ’41…Have listened to the war news constantly. Hope Max won’t have to go, but know he will at any time.
December 11, ’41…More war news. Have done nothing but listen to the radio today.
Still shocked by the attack and declaration of war, Americans were soon faced with harsh changes in their everyday lives. Rationing began as American access to sources for gasoline, sugar, and metals were cut off by the war.
Tire rationing began on January 5, 1942, following Japan gaining control of countries that supplied 91% of the rubber used by the United States. A “Victory Speed” of 35 miles per hour was put into force because tires wear out half as quickly at 35 mph than at 60 mph. Five tires was the maximum that could be owned.
Soon the majority of everyday purchases were accompanied by coupons from the family ration book. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was in charge of the program, but depended on volunteers to help issue and explain how to use the ration book. Mother was one of these volunteers.
April 29, ’42…I went to a meeting to get instructions for helping with the sugar ration books.
May 5, ’42…Helped register at Fortune Grammar School,* know lots of people.
*Schools were designated as the places to distribute ration books.
Tension was constant as families waited for loved ones to be called to service.
April 11, ’42…The bottom dropped out of my world today. Max was given notice to report April 28 to Miami Beach, Florida, air corp, non-flying duty. How can we let him go?
Miami Beach became one of the largest Army Air Force training centers and officers candidate schools of WWII. There was no military base there so the war department leased the Miami Beach Municipal Golf Course for $1 a year to be used as army headquarters and a drill field. At one time they took over 93 apartment buildings and 85% of the hotel rooms for living quarters and classrooms.
May 1, 1942…Dear family, I am to take a six weeks officers training course so they put me up here. (Shelborne Hotel) It cost $1.25 a day for a shared room. The man I am with is from Texas. Everything is so clean here, most of the buildings are white and there isn’t a bit of smoke or soot. The boys would not get as dirty down here all summer as they would up there in an hour.
Another letter from Daddy explained how his time was spent
May 8, 1942…Dear family, We have just had a singing in one of the outdoor plazas of one of the hotels.** All of us have to attend. There are about 800 men attending the officers training school now and there will be 400 men coming in every two weeks. The course lasts for six weeks and after it is completed, the officers will be sent to posts throughout the country to do the administrative and ground training of the Air Corps.
We start at 7:00 o’clock in the morning with an hour of drill, then a class, then 2 hours of exercising, calisthenics, games, swimming, etc. Then we eat, then drill, class, class, drill and class. It is 6 o’clock then and we have until 8 o’clock free except on Wednesday when we have a singing from 7 to 8.
At 8 we have to be in our room and at 10 the lights must be out. I think everyone is ready for bed too.
Miami has what they call a dimout, autos use only the parking lights to drive with, the street lights are shielded so that the light won’t shine up into the sky, and all blinds and shades in the hotel are drawn. It’s so a ship at sea won’t be silhouetted against the glow of the city making a good target for a sub.***
I don’t know about you all coming down. They discourage men in the school from bringing their families. Will try to write more later.
**Tried researching the mandatory Wednesday night singing and found nothing. A WW II buff, Andy Niemyer, suggested, “Mostly likely it was chorus; probably broken down by Company. Something to keep bored, young male minds occupied.”
***On the night of May 14, 1942, a German U-boat did spot a ship off of Miami Beach, and mistaking a neutral Mexican vessel for an Italian one, attacked it. The U.S. added patrols to the beach area after that.
Daddy’s first assignment was the mess hall May 19, 1942…I work at Mess #1 of the Air Corps Officers Candidate School. We fed 1300 men at dinner and 1200 at supper tonight. It takes about an hour and a half for them to go through. It is served cafeteria style. I eat there too and it doesn’t cost me anything.
Amid uncertainty of how long he would be stationed there and availability of housing, Daddy told Mother to come and to bring the car.
On May 25, 1942, Mother, her mother-in-law, Myrtis Shahan, and my brothers left Chattanooga to make the 800 mile drive to Miami Beach. The first night they stayed in Ashburn, Georgia. The second night they made it to St. Augustine, Florida and enjoyed a hack sightseeing tour of the city. Her comment, “have had good luck,” expressed her relief over no car or tire difficulties on the trip. May 27, ’42…Got an early start, arrived in Miami Beach about 6 o’clock. So glad to see “our soldier.”
My family was in Miami Beach for a year, enjoying the warm weather, local attractions, and being able to walk to the ocean. Those pluses aside, they were there because of a war and the challenges affected every aspect of their daily lives.
Blackouts, the covering of doors and windows with heavy, dark fabric, was mandatory, beginning before each sunset. Rationing put limits on what amounts it was possible to purchase; shortages put a halt to purchasing. The availability of housing was precarious and children cut down on the options.
June 10, ’42… The police got us again tonight about lights.
July 13 ‘42…Five of the girls & I went to the drugstore about 11 o’clock tonight, then talked on the lawn til about 1 o’clock. It was fun.
July 15 ‘42…Took our lunch and met Max at the beach. The boys went in the ocean.
July 17’42…The air raid warden had to get us about lights. She said if one more time would be a $75 fine and a day in jail. Lee is so scared.
Jul 19 ‘42…went for a long ride to the Monkey Jungle. Then to M&M Cafeteria in Miami City. Afterwards to the beach with boys.
Jul 28 ‘42…The “gang” & I went to Liggett’s for sundaes. Then went swimming in the ocean at 12 o’clock. A beautiful moonlit night. Sat & talked til 2 o’clock.
Aug 26 ‘42 – Shampooed my hair. Max always seems so tired, never smiles or has anything to say. Never goes anywhere. Sleeps most of the time he is home.
Sept. 10 ‘42…A suicide happened in the hotel in our yard, where we park the car. We saw all the ambulances, life guards, doctors who worked with him for an hour inside the building. Another soldier did the same thing last week over a girl.
Sept 17 ‘42…The boys & I saw Clark Gable. He passed right beside the car. He looked like any other officer. He lost his glamour when he shaved his mustache.
Sept 20 ‘42…We have found out that Clark Gable is now in Cabot Hotel right here by us. We have been sitting within 6 feet of him several times today. He is handsome.
Sept 21 ‘42 – I have gone dopey. I spent so much time watching Gable I didn’t tend to my family. He smiles but never looks at us, not giving us a chance to speak.
Sept 22 ‘42 – I saw Gable 4 or 5 times today. Martha Lee took us to her aunt’s house, which is the former J.C. Penney mansion. Superb.
Sept 26 ‘42 – Have been sitting in the yard today to watch Gable. One of the girls asked him if he enjoyed his lunch. He said, “Yes, thank you,” but didn’t look at her.
Oct 1 ‘42 – Really, these last few months have been a dream for me, I am so afraid to wake up. I haven’t been so carefree in years.
During his time in Miami, Gable endeared himself to other enlistees by becoming one of them and never shirking from duties. He had a rough time learning the classroom material, but tackled it like a film part and spent his nights memorizing the information. On October 28, 1942, Gable graduated 700th out of 2600 and was asked to give the commencement speech.
Nov 12 ‘42…The Carpenters & I went to see “Somewhere I’ll Find you.” Clark seemed like some I know–that is what I kept thinking during the picture.
On November 9 of 1942 Daddy wrote to his mother, “The owner of the apartment has decided not to take children and told us we would have to move the first of December. Don’t know where we can find a place that does take children.”
Nov 23 ‘42…Looked at apts from 1 to 3, no luck again today. Think we may get to go home, do hope so. I can’t feature Christmas in this heat.
Nov 25 ‘42…Have been looking for apts again today. Just seems hopeless. Hate to think of leaving Max but would like to take a business course at home.
Nov 26 ‘42…We have so much to be thankful for–our health, our being together, that bombs have not not fallen on our roofs, good food and freedom.
Nov 28 ‘42… Have washed & ironed & packed all day although we know not where we are going. I never wanted to go home so bad in all my life.
Life in the Army
Dec 1, 1942 , Dear Myr,
We are moved and that is about all I can say. I have been so busy killing giant roaches and spiders, I haven’t had time to straighten up. We are 5 miles up the beach away from any grocery stores and schools. My stomach turns upside down every time I enter the apartment.
They just this a.m. closed the main street to all traffic except military cars, and the side streets are so jammed with soldiers drilling it is practically impossible to get anywhere.
The grocery stores are jammed, you have to stand in line for hours and by the time your line comes they are sold out of everything.
They have taken nearly every hotel and apt and I do hope and pray that this is not next on the list. This a.m. I even saw store bldgs on Lincoln Rd. the army was moving into.
We used most of our gas hunting apts and don’t have but 9 gallons to last us for two months. It is impossible for civilians to ride buses, they are always packed with soldiers.
This was just the only apt we could find cheaper than $100 and impossible to rent one without an army lease for a year. Evelyn
November 30, ’42 ..Took children to the parade. There we saw Walter Winchell, Constance Bennett, and Fred Snite, Jr ****in his iron lung.
****Fred Snite, Jr., who holds the record for surviving 18 years in an iron lung, was an inspiration to others. He enjoyed bridge tournaments, attending sports events, and was the father of three.
Dec 16 ‘42 – Larry & I walked on Lincoln Rd, was so in hopes I could see the Duchess of Windsor who is always shopping, but no luck. The royal couple stopped in Miami on their way to the Bahamas. He inspected the base and had his picture made with a company.
Jan 14 ‘43 – Dottie, the boys & I ate lunch at the PX. Johnnie, Phillip Morris boy came in his red coat, he talked to the boys and I got his autograph for them.
Dec 24 ‘42…Tomorrow is Christmas and I have never wanted to go home so much in my life. Neither of us are in a congenial mood at this time.
A Visit Home
Jan 15 ‘43… The order banning all unnecessary driving has struck hard. Kept Lee from kindergarten to save gas to get home(Chattanooga).
On January 30,1943, the family had visitors from Georgia, my maternal grandmother, Bertha Puryear, and cousin, Octa Morgan. They rode the train down. Daddy wrote to his mother…Evelyn is going to drive them back Monday, she wants to get her teeth fixed and get the car back up there, we can’t use it and the sun is ruining the paint.
His other news…I am trying to get transferred out of here as there doesn’t look like there is anything to the future here.
So Mother was able to go to her parents’ home, taking my brothers …Lee and Larry are so excited that they are going back to LaFayette. They were there for two months. Daddy gave up their apartment and moved into bachelor quarters.
While there, Mother…Took the boys to Dr. Long for check-up. He said to have Larry’s operation (hernia) done as soon as possible in the army hospital. Lee’s tonsils out.
and…Worked at Red Cross all p.m. registered & obtained our war ration book No. 2.
Mar 5 ‘43 – Arrived in Miami 7:30 p.m. train. Had a good trip. Max to meet us, so glad to see him I just cried.
“Life is wonderful…”
Mar 13 ‘43 – Got a girl to keep the boys. Max & I went to Ida’s Supper Club, ate a $1.75 dinner, danced and had $2.00 each drinks. A grand time.
Mar 25 ‘43 – The boys have been inside most of the day, playing with the new toys. Life is wonderful as long as we can all be together.
Apr 18 ‘43…The boys and I to Sunday School, had dinner with Max at the Shelbourne. Next to the Surf Club for a water show. Max worked and then met us to come home.
Apr 28 ‘43…We left Miami at 12. We have had such a good time here these last 2 months. I really hate to leave it.