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AAsk someone what it was like to live in the United States during WWII in the early 1940s, and one of the first things he or she will say is that everything was rationed. These days it is hard to imagine not going to the nearest gas station, filling up and buying a candy bar for the road. But Ron Phelps, who was 9 in 1941, recalls all the shortages. “Fuel, tires, sugar, meat … and you couldn’t get chocolate, it was all sent overseas,” he says. “We did hunger for candies and things; gas was rationed so you had to change how you lived. You might normally ride around Sunday afternoon with your family, but you didn’t do a whole lot of that because of rationing. Every car had a sticker, A,B,C, with A the most common. A min-ister might have a C sticker because he needed to go around to his congregation or for funerals.” The requirement to have homes, businesses and vehicles blacked out during air raid drills made some childhood activities, like bonfires on the beach, out of the question. “As young boys, we went down on the beach at night,” he says. “We were not allowed to build fires or have flashlights, things like that, nothing that would alert enemy ships offshore to zero in on Wrightsville Beach. And the military and Coast Guard patrolled to make sure people were complying.” Blackout drills happened at varying times, and people quickly stopped what they were doing to wait them out. “The point was to obliterate all light during the blackout drills,” Phelps says. “I remember spe-cifically coming home on a city bus from downtown. The driver simply pulled off on the side of the road and turned off all the lights on the bus.” When the sirens started going off, people acted instantly to extinguish all lights. “There was a network of sirens, they were ear splitting, very loud, and would immediately grab your attention,” Phelps says. “There’s no way you could say you didn’t hear it!” The drills were carried out in schools as well. “When I was attending Forest Hills, we brought blankets to school for the raids. We took them to an auditorium or some central point and just sat quiet until it was over,” Phelps says. He has vivid memories of the German prisoners who were interred in Wilmington. “Across from where I lived on Wilshire was Mr. John Leeuwenburg’s dairy. He was a Dutch dairyman,” Phelps says. “I would see a flatbed truck bringing them into the farm, 10-12 prisoners with POW sewn on their backs.” The prisoners were not chained and Phelps does not recall seeing an armed guard. He heard the farmer speak with the prisoners, Dutch or German, he wasn’t sure which. “One was a great mechanic,” he says. “Mr. Leeuwenburg used him to repair and operate machinery. I think they must have liked how he would have a cookout for them; some of the prisoners wanted to stay.” None of them spoke English, but Phelps and the farmer’s son, Johnny, “halfway became friends with those German prisoners, but they were the enemy. They were Hitler’s people,” he says. Phelps lived in the Highwood Park area of Wilmington. Despite the war and the shortages, he and his friends found things to enjoy. “We would go to the YMCA on Third and Market or the Bijou movie theater on Front Street,” he says. “You could get in for 9 cents if you were under 12 years old. And that included a comedy, a serial (weekly series) and the Movietone news.” He would find glass bottles and sell them for 2 cents each. If he collected five bottles, he had movie fare. Glass wasn’t the only thing that was recycled. “I remember going around and getting all the scrap metal you could find,” Phelps says. “They wanted it, and they would buy it from you. You went into woods, abandoned lots, wherever you could find metal. Even tires, you could sell that stuff for a little extra money. There was even this thing called vulcanizing. You would repair those tires to keep you going.” 47 www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM


2015-11
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