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Silvey Robinson age 93 NNewlywed Silvey Robinson recalls how ordinary the air raid drills became, typically occurring at noon on any given day. That’s why the sound of sirens going off late at night in July 1943 was especially alarming. “All a sudden they went off around 11 or 12 at night,” she says. “To have the siren go off at night was so exceptional during all the years of the war. I remember some in my household went to peek out the window, but they couldn’t see anything.” The nighttime alert was followed by a quickly circulating story about an attack near Fort Fisher. “They sighted a German sub or sighted the men coming ashore down near Kure Beach, near the Ethyl-Dow chemical plant,” Robinson says. An Army pilot spotted a submarine about 5 miles offshore just as it surfaced and fired five shells at the plant, triggering the alert. But like many stories at the time of raiding parties and spies, the account of Germans coming ashore likely wasn’t quite accu-rate. During the war, news blackouts could make information difficult to come by and rumor often became solidified as fact. Robinson was a 19-year-old zoology major when she dropped out of The Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, known as WC, in September 1941 to marry her beau, Cecil Robinson, before he had to leave for duty. “I exchanged a BS for an MRS,” she says. “So many of us had been dating our special person a number of years, they were called up, and we married. At that time, married women were not allowed in college.” Like many wartime brides, she lived with her parents in their home on Wolcott Avenue in Wilmington while her husband was deployed overseas. Because she did not have children, she was expected to do her part to help the war effort. She worked in the accounting department at the shipyard in a nearly all-female labor force for three years. She carpooled to the shipyard in her 1940 Chevrolet coupe. “I worked with IBM machines on the second shift, from 3-11 p.m.,” she says. “You know, those were the forerunners to computers.” One of the strongest emotions the Wilmington resident recalls from that era was the immense sense of patriotism displayed by her fellow countrymen immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “It truly brought the war to us — our country had been attacked! It was no longer something that was happening to other people, it was happening to us,” she says. “It brought the country together. We had a common goal.” While she was home working at the shipyard, her husband was serving in Panama. “In May 1941 they sent people to guard the Panama Canal,” she says. “I think our government was surprised Japan didn’t bomb the canal entrance. That would have destroyed our ability to get ships into the Pacific.” Asked if there was a climate of hate toward the Germans or Japanese during the war, she hesitated. “Not as much the Germans, but the Japanese brought war to us,” she says. “That was the reason for the internment of the Japanese Americans on the Pacific Coast. Not a physical fear as much as fear of their loyalties.” Robinson never saw the German prisoner of war camp in Wilmington, but she did see the young men working on farms in the area. “I would go horseback riding on Greenville Loop Road and I saw them working farms in that area, and they flirted just like Americans did,” she says with amusement. “I ignored them.” Another light-hearted memory of the time involved regular Sunday trips to visit her in-laws on Wrightsville Beach (her broth-ers- in-law owned Lumina Pavilion). On the return bus ride in the evening, someone would start up a song, and everyone would chime in. “We would sing Cole Porter songs like ‘Night and Day’ and another song called ‘Marie’ by Tommy Dorsey,” she says. “‘Marie, the dawn is breaking.’ It was relaxing.” She laughs after singing the nostalgic lyrics. “I’m not much of a singer, or not very musical,” she says. 44 WBM november 2015


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