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Houston In World War II


Firebird65

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Yeah, that was always my complaint about history. It's easy to find out when the Astrodome was built or when oil was struck at Spindletop.

I'm more concerned about the little aspects of history that have been lost to time.

I'm facinated by WWII history. However, for many years, the history books merely focused on soldiers, battles and massacres. What was life like in the occupied terrirories? I'm not talking about the resistance or the Holocaust... just what was life like for some everyday person living in France or Poland or Greece? The guy who worked at the corner market or owned a farm? How was his or her life affected or was it affected at all?

Normally I'd never watch a "chick flick," but I really enjoyed the Nicholas Cage/Penelope Cruz movie of a few years back called Captain Corelli's Mandolin. In case you never saw it, and not many people did, it deals with the lives of a doctor and his daughter in Italian-occupied Greece and how they interacted with the Italian soldiers in their town. Sure, it had a goofy romance and had a battle scene or two, but it had a different perspective than most movies about occupied Europe. There's no mass resistance... there's no massacre... it's just how everyday people in some backwater put up with the inconvenience and nuisance of having foreigners running the place.

I am also interested in geography and cartography. But almost all books about WWII presented maps from our point of view... in other words, it showed the 1938 borders with occupied areas colored in. But what did a German map of, say, 1942 Europe look like? Obviously they didn't show Poland or Austria on their maps. To them, these countries no longer existed. And what would Europe have looked like had the Nazis won the war? What were their plans?

Fortunately, in recent years, books have started incorporating such things and many interesting WWII atlases have hit the bookshelves in recent years.

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There was Camp Wallace in Texas city.

Speaking of which, I recall having read an article in the Galveston County Daily News over a year ago that mentioned that a book had been recently published that detailed the history of Galveston County's many military bases. I wanted to read into it, but just didn't have time.

Edited by TheNiche
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During WWII German submarines were off the Galveston coast sinking our supply ships.

It's a fact that German subs sank a lot of supply ships in the Gulf of Mexico during WWII. Ships coming out of ports in Texas and Louisiana. That's why the Army set up dozens of observation bases on the immediate coast from Brownsville all the way over to Florida. My father spent the first eight months of his army career in 1942 and 1943 at one of those bases near Corpus Christi, and he told me they spotted a lot of subs out there in plain sight. The Coast Guard went after them, but he didnt remember them ever catching any of them.

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It's a fact that German subs sank a lot of supply ships in the Gulf of Mexico during WWII. Ships coming out of ports in Texas and Louisiana. That's why the Army set up dozens of observation bases on the immediate coast from Brownsville all the way over to Florida. My father spent the first eight months of his army career in 1942 and 1943 at one of those bases near Corpus Christi, and he told me they spotted a lot of subs out there in plain sight. The Coast Guard went after them, but he didnt remember them ever catching any of them.

As the situation along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coastlines became more threatening, the Coast Guard even started installing depth charges on smaller private boats and yachts. I'm not aware of anybody ever having scored a kill with that setup; for many of those boats to which depth charge launchers were affixed, any use of the munitions would result in the sinking of their own vessel.

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And didn't the U.S. keep a prisoner-of-war camp somewhere near Alvin?

The US kept dozens of POW camps in Texas during WWII. Including two in Galveston County. There were more than 400 thousand POW's in camps all over the southern and midwest United States, and 80 thousand of them were in Texas. If you think the US is bending over backward to "respect the rights" of POW's at Guantanamo Bay, you won't believe how nice we were to the POW's during WWII. A documentary about the camps on the History Channel said the U-S government was determined to enforce every detail of the Geneva Conventions, in the hope of keeping American POW's from being mistreated in foreign POW camps.

Those guys didn't want to escape because they never had it so good.

One POW camp was in my home town of Lufkin in Angelina County. My mother told me they held dances in the camp on Saturday nights, and a fair number of local women would go to them, and there was some fooling around. She knew several women whose husbands were overseas, but who got pregnant by a POW. Here's the full story on Texas POW camps in the Handbook of Texas. It's great reading. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online...es/GG/qug1.html

Edited by FilioScotia
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Prisoners of war were held at the Brazoria Co. Fairgrounds just south of Angleton during WWII. For some reason that is missing from the list in the Handbook of Texas.

The Historical Museum in Angleton currently has an exhibit on WWII in Brazoria Co.

http://www.bchm.org/

According to that (scroll down), there was also a prisoner of war camp near Alvin also not mentioned in the HoT account.

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Prisoners of war were held at the Brazoria Co. Fairgrounds just south of Angleton during WWII. For some reason that is missing from the list in the Handbook of Texas.

The Historical Museum in Angleton currently has an exhibit on WWII in Brazoria Co.

http://www.bchm.org/

According to that (scroll down), there was also a prisoner of war camp near Alvin also not mentioned in the HoT account.

......there was also a POW camp in Princeton, Texas, northeast of Dallas. THere is nothing there but an old water tower.

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Firebird65,

I'm with you on wanting first-hand knowledge of the way things were. Well, here is one story and it ties in with Houston Past, as well.

During WWII or "The Big War" as we called it, there was a terrible housing shortage. The populace was asked to rent a room, anything they had empty to the scores of military personnel pouring into Ellington AFB. Our house was called a storey and a half, meaning there was one room on a second floor level and the bathroom perched between first and second floors off a landing. Technically the top bedroom had been my room, but I was moved to the breakfast nook off the kitchen, so that the upstairs room could be used for a fly-boy and wife.

Mostly we had guys with "war brides" and the first I recall was an English wife from Bristol. I was only 2 years old, but had never seen a person as gaunt and pale with huge, dark, sunken eyes. She ended up talking with us of her experiences. The air raids and almost incessant bombings from the Germans made it impossible to sleep. They were so terrified that even when things were quiet, ears were straining to hear the whine and whistle of the next V-2 rockets. All the while, they simply were not eating much of the time and the word was that any day the invasion would occur and they would all be doomed. The psychological toll was enormous for those in the big cities and ports. She was very nice and taught me British expressions and words for things, like lifts, lorries, etc. I remember that face and how skinny she was, but I never recall seeing her smile.

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That is a whole lot of rambling in a topic that is supposed to be about the History of Houston. How did the topic of WWII get involved in this thread?

I hear you, Puma. I think by the time you posted, the original topic was exhausted. Maybe we need a WWII Houston/Galveston related topic.

Until that happens, here's my 2 cents:

My dad was stationed in Galveston at the bunkers where the San Luis is now. It was a pretty boring assignment so if the guys had the chance, they were off to the USO dances in Houston. My dad met my mom's roommate at Jeff Davis nursing school and asked her out for a date on his next leave. By the time it came around her roommate was ill; my mom went on the date; we won WWII; they got married; had 2 girls and me and here I am hanging by a thread almost 54 years later. <_<

...but I digress, Puma. You were correct: rambling has overtaken the topic.

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Question. In Galveston, driving down 61st street to the sea wall, there used to be some one story, wooden barracks on the left. I was told when little that it was a P.O.W. camp, but I am now thinking, with all y'all's new info that they must have been housing for our guys stationed at Fort Crockett. Could that be?

Houston played an active part in the war, we had, I think, 3 different shipbuilding companies. My Dad worked at Brown Shipbuilding and after I was grown, I found some of his designs in an old box in the attic. Sadly he was dead by then and I couldn't ask more about his job.

Another experience I had, straight from the movies, was my mother and I travelling to Albuquerque to see my Grandparents. I believe it was around 1944. Uniforms everywhere and the train car we were in was all soldiers headed to West Coast to ship out to Pacific Front. Every seat was taken, Mom and I were only civilians and the men were so nice to us. At one point, they rearranged themselves to sit on suitcases in the aisles so I could have a whole seat to lie down and sleep.

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Question. In Galveston, driving down 61st street to the sea wall, there used to be some one story, wooden barracks on the left. I was told when little that it was a P.O.W. camp, but I am now thinking, with all y'all's new info that they must have been housing for our guys stationed at Fort Crockett. Could that be?

There was a POW camp on the Fort Crockett property, but I don't think it was on 61st St. The Fort Crockett military reservation was bounded on the west by 53rd Street, by 45th Street on the east, by Avenue U on the north and by Seawall Blvd on the south.

I can't say flatly that the POW barracks were not along 61st Street, but it doesn't seem probable -- to me -- that the War Department would place hundreds of war prisoners outside the area covered by military law.

I'm betting it was on 53rd Street. Not 61st. I'm also betting your father took that route to the beach just so he could drive past Fort Crockett to see the POW barracks and maybe get a glimpse of some POW's. I know I would have done that if I had been there during the war.

Edited by FilioScotia
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  • 4 months later...

A little bit of WWII Houston trivia.....as a youngster (attending Cage Elementary in the early 40's), I remember a lot about the day-to-day life during the war.....so here goes.

Just before the war, I remember going to the Houston ship-channel Turning Basin and seeing ships with big White flags with a Red Sun in the middle being loaded with scrap iron (via magnetic cranes). I remember a relative saying, they're going to be throwing that stuff back at us one of these days!

We had Air Raid wardens for our blocks in the Telephone Rd/Wayside area (Eastwood). I remember the Air Raid blackout drills, and the warden coming around to admonish you if he could see light coming from your house. The warden had a gas-mask!

My Dad worked at the Dixon Gun plant (I think it may have been a Hughes subsidiary), making large artillary gun barrels.

My brother worked at a place near Telephone and Wayside called McAvoy's, where he made parts for machine guns.

We frequently went around our neighborhood collecting paper scrap for the war effort.

My brother-in-law lived across the street till he went in the Army....his brother was killed in an Army Air Corps training accident.

My sister in law's brother was killed in Italy defusing a pile of mines.

Down on telephone road was the Beehan's sewing machine shop. Their son, Kermit, later became known as the pilot of Bock's Car, the B-29 that dropped the 2nd Atomic bomb.

We couldn't drive on the seawall at Galveston along where the Fort/Artillary was, you had to detour around back, away from the beach area till well past the Fort.

I remember the junk that used to wash up on the beachs at Galveston from the ships that had been torpedoed in the Gulf; this included bananas, and lots of big ugly hunks of tar/oil.

The price of Shrimp sky-rocketed because the shrimp boats were afraid to go out due to the Nazi subs in the Gulf.

Ellington field was a beehive of activity, and when you drove by Ellington field (Old Galveston hiway) you could see piles and piles of wrecked aircraft stacked behind a fence next to the hiway.

What we call war today is a joke! In WWII, everyone was engaged, and their lives profoundly affected by the event, and everyone made sacrifices, be it blood, separation from family, or inconvenience in daily life.

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It's a fact that German subs sank a lot of supply ships in the Gulf of Mexico during WWII. Ships coming out of ports in Texas and Louisiana. That's why the Army set up dozens of observation bases on the immediate coast from Brownsville all the way over to Florida. My father spent the first eight months of his army career in 1942 and 1943 at one of those bases near Corpus Christi, and he told me they spotted a lot of subs out there in plain sight. The Coast Guard went after them, but he didnt remember them ever catching any of them.

Don't know if they are still there but as a kid growing up when we fished on West Bay my Father always pointed out the four towers in Hitchcock that were the remains of a Blimp Base. Apparently the Blimps were responsible for coastal security and looking out for enemy submarines in the Gulf.

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Don't know if they are still there but as a kid growing up when we fished on West Bay my Father always pointed out the four towers in Hitchcock that were the remains of a Blimp Base. Apparently the Blimps were responsible for coastal security and looking out for enemy submarines in the Gulf.

The Blimp Base is still there, some of it at least. Most of the buildings were torn down just recently when a subdivision was created on the site. The roads (like Blimp Base Rd.) are open to the public now. The blimp hanger itself is on private land, but yes, the four towers that supported the roof are still there. This was reportedly the largest wooden roof span in the country. The military sold the property after the war. Oilman John Mecom once owned the hanger. It was damaged during Hurricane Carla (1961) and was torn down. (the towers remain).

Camp Wallace was north of this site, now Jack Brooks Park. Several foundations in the back of the park are still visible (you have to be looking). POW's were held at this site.

The Santa Fe Area Historical Society has a display and several artifacts taken from Camp Wallace and the LTA station at their musuem located in Hitchcock housed in an old Santa Fe Railroad Depot building. (neat stuff)

Note: Several of the Camp Wallace barracks buildings are reportedly still in use today around Galveston county. I know of two, one behind the Santa Fe ISD administration building (the old visitors locker room), and the other on Highway 6 and Jackson St. in old downtown Arcadia. (currently used as a church).

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  • 5 months later...

There is a book published by Texas A&M press called "Torpedoes in the Gulf", it sums up the war offshore in great detail. I used to be a Uboat hunter of sorts, spurred on by reports of a Uboat offshore of Galveston that by all logic would be impossible (depth vs. draft and submerged running depth issues forbid the possibility). While they did lurk offshore, around Galveston they did so much further out than other parts of the Gulf like New Orleans and points farther east. They did venture within 40 or so miles, any close and they couldn't run submerged.

U-166 was one of the lost subs that had never been found, so naturally, every sunken Uboat story on the Gulf coast was immediately pegged as U-166. From historical research by Mr. A.J. Christ of Louisiana, the Book cited above, and several years worth of plowing through Federal, USGS, NOAA and maritaime records, I predicted that the sub would be found within 25 miles of its last reported sighting (White and Boggs of, USCG dive bomber out of Houma LA, reported a slick after hitting the sub with a single depth charge).

Several years ago the sub was located by petroleum companies in 600 feet of water during an archaeological survey prior to a planned pipeline construction. There is more info here:

http://www.pastfoundation.org/U166/

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  • 5 weeks later...

The Blimp Base is still there, some of it at least. Most of the buildings were torn down just recently when a subdivision was created on the site. The roads (like Blimp Base Rd.) are open to the public now. The blimp hanger itself is on private land, but yes, the four towers that supported the roof are still there. This was reportedly the largest wooden roof span in the country. The military sold the property after the war. Oilman John Mecom once owned the hanger. It was damaged during Hurricane Carla (1961) and was torn down. (the towers remain).

There was a blimp base in miami. It was destroyed in a hurricane except for one tall concrete tower, near the metrozoo, that is now part of the gold coast railroad museum. This concrete tower was the anchor for a door on a blimp hanger. The blimps did convoy duty, and had sonar and radar, depth charges and machine guns. They would fly in front of the convoys, which were mostly from mexico, texas and lousiana, and were oil tankers. At least one blimp was shot down by deck guns from the submarines.

On the east coast of florida, no known submarines were sunk, but something like 24 ships were sunk, 9 within site of the beaches in Palm Beach County. There are many stories of residents hearing the thud of striking torpedoes, and recognizing the sound, it was so common. The Florida Memory web page has photographs taken by people on the beach of burning tankers.

The sinking of cuban and mexican tankers off florida caused those countries to declare war. At least one cuban patrol boat sank a sub in cooperation with us naval blimps and planes.

The folklore sub activity in florida is similar to what I heard in houston. At fondren jr high, in history class in the 1960s, i heard that a sub entered the ship channel and was sunk near the turning basin. Sailors in a raft were found with freshly baked bread from New Orleans and movie ticket stubs. German submariner web discussions suggest that this is all folklore; crews were too oily, unshaven and stinky, baths occured only after tours of duty, to go ashore undetected.

Both elements are common in sub stories on the atlantic: a loaf of holsum bread and tickets to the theater. There are also stories of uboat captains hanging out in Palm Beach bars and restaraunts. It is said that there is a ledge off the breakers hotel, and subs would sit under the ledge till dark. Cities refused to participate in blackouts because it was bad for tourism, and the lights would silouette ships going through the florida straits. So the sub could surface at night and their only problem was deciding which ships to target.

Blimps and air bases was the answer- as soon as there were frequent armed patrols, the sub activity stopped, and moved to other areas, such as the gulf. Most of the florida sinkings were in 42-43.

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One of the unexpected benifits of that time was better fishing in West Galveston Bay. In a book called "Plugger" which is the story of a gentleman named (I think) Rudy Grigar he tells of fishing at the far west end of Galveston Bay around San Louis pass and up into Chocolate Bay in the late forties and early fifties. There were holes in the shallow bays where huge schools of Redfish would congregate. These holes were from the WWII era as they were caused by the Air Corp doing their pratice bombing in that area because it was close to Ellington and Galveston and at the time virtually uninhabited.

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The Humble Oil Refinery in Baytown was a key war production plant that made the explosives for aerial bombs. Some of the old timers used to show me places along the roads near the refinery where anti-aircraft guns were located. Because of gas rationing, most plant workers rode bicyles to work and the streets of Old Baytown were jammed with people on bikes at shift change.

There was a small POW camp outside of Baytown and a larger one in Liberty. The POWs in Baytown were Afrika Korps troops captured in North Africa early in the U.S. involvement in the conflict. There are several houses around town were built by German POWs during the war and I have talked to people who were children at the time who watched them work on them.

My best friend's dad was an HPD cop before and after WWII and he used to talk about the rise in crime that came with the war. Lots of prostitution, gang activity and an increase in drug use were problems that developed. He blamed the rise on the war industries which attracted a large number of people into jobs. Suddenly nobody was watching the kids, who were working themselves, and with dollars in their pockets but very little to actually spend it on, thanks to rationing and shortages, they often spent their dough on black market items.

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The first cruiser Houston, (CA-30) nicknamed the "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast" was part of the Malay barrier to Japanese incursions to Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). 10 ships, under admiral Voorman formed the Dutch-British-Australian-American fleet, including HMS Exeter, of Graff Spee Fame. In February of 1942, the Japanese invaded Indonesia with a massive force and several fleets. The Exeter was hit and was limping back to Australia with a destroyer escort. The dutch cruisers were sunk, Admiral Voorman went down. His last command was for the Houston and the Australian cruiser Perth to retire to austrialia. While cruising the Java coast, they encountered an unexpected japanese force of several cruisers, transports and destroyers. Both the Perth and the Houston went down fighting that day. The next day the Exeter was sunk, and the allied navy cease to exist in indonesia. Survivors were sent to se asia, where they built the death rr, featured in the movie Bridge over the river Kwai.

For 6 months no one in the US knew what had happened to the Houston. When word reached houston, a massive fundraiser was held, 1000 people volunteered in a ceremony, and enough money was raised to build a light cruiser houston and the carrier San Jacinto.

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I think food rations and other rations like rubber and the like have been discussed during these years here in Houston and around the country?

Did anyone discuss the black-outs they used to have here in downtown? All building's & businesses nearby DT were ordered to turn out the lights on certain days and or times in the event of bombings or air raids?

My mom always talked to us about these days and how lucky we were to not have to experience what they did during WWII. She always mentioned War Bonds. I only see the real thing on old films like AMC or TMC channels now. Can any recall how war bonds worked? Guess I could google but I'd rather you guys tell us from stories your relatives told you growing up.

I have the sudden urge to hear some Glenn Miller or Andrews Sisters now...

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This won't be much technical help, as I was only a very little girl during the war, but it is a first-hand memory. There were little booklets, similar to later savings stamps, that you filled up with stamps you bought for a few cents. When you had enough, the book would buy a War Bond. You are right, every film we saw in those days had an opening plea to buy War Bonds and there were rallies, big hype. I don't understand the process or the why. Seems to me just taking up a collection of cash to donate to the war effort would have accomplished the same thing. Perhaps this was just a way to get more people involved and spur the spirit of everyone "doing their part."

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Mom said you couldn't buy panty hose. Stores would not stock as they were needed for Parachutes, etc. Not until after 1945 could you buy or was it available.

Maybe thats why young ladies & teenyboppers were often called bobby soxers.

Listening to to these ladies help lift everyones spirits in those days and of course the big band sounds.

I was amazed to see this on wiki:

The Andrews Sisters became the best-selling female vocal group in the history of popular music, setting records that remain unsurpassed today.

00000588.JPG

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The primary rationed items I remember were meat, sugar, rubber (could not buy tires, only patch them), all leather goods, cars, gasoline and real coffee. As I discussed earlier in this thread, everyone in the family would save their sugar coupons for a whole year and that would enable us to bake one birthday cake to celebrate them all, whenever they fell. Also, vivid memories of standing in long lines for eons to get whatever meat the market happened to have, generally not good stuff. Mostly we ate eggs and/or Spam for dinner, yuk, although in the UK they had few fresh eggs.

Stockings! Here is the lowdown on that. Pantyhose did not exist until the 1960's. Silk or silk/cotton stockings, with seams down the back were worn by the upper crust; plain cotton, then rayon by the plebs. Queen Elizabeth I was first to have pure silk stockings! By the 1920 and through the '30s, rayon was the most common material, but nylons came into use by the 1940's. That fibre too was rationed for some reason, though I understand only the forbidden silk was actually used for parachutes.

Otherwise prim and proper ladies had to go barelegged or wear socks, which look like crap with high heels. Bobbiesoxers, I think started in the '30s, but were the thing through the war and after. The only shoes I got during the war were leather Huraches from Mexico, all that you could buy. They squeaked loudly and smelled awful when wet. That is when we began to believe the stories about them being tanned in urine.

By the end of the war, we tried to make a trip of about 200 miles out of Houston. On the return journey, you won't believe, but is true, our poor, ancient patched tires graced us with 5 flats total. I was 4 at the time and thought, truly, that we would never get back home.

Later, when I met some war brides from England, I found out our little inconviences were as nothing compared to what the Brits went through, not only the Blitz, but real deprivation of just about everything and very little food of any kind.

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By the end of the war, we tried to make a trip of about 200 miles out of Houston. On the return journey, you won't believe, but is true, our poor, ancient patched tires graced us with 5 flats total. I was 4 at the time and thought, truly, that we would never get back home.

Later, when I met some war brides from England, I found out our little inconviences were as nothing compared to what the Brits went through, not only the Blitz, but real deprivation of just about everything and very little food of any kind.

Guess we would have to start a whole new topic on stories of the war. I had mentioned briefly in another subject of coworkers my mom worked with after the war. Like how they ended up in Houston and what they experienced while fleeing Nazi occupation. She knew 2 sisters that married GI's and fled to US to escape persecution and they lost their parents/brothers & sisters in the concentration camps. Our city was actually becoming quite diverse a long time ago. Most Houstonians think it is only recent but my mom worked with Jewish and Polish/Italian girls that fled Europe and found refuge here and all over US just in time or immediately after the war ended. There was a Tailor Shop on Main street called Bond's Tailor's. This is one of the places my mom became friends with many of these skilled workers from Europe. Bond's provided hand made suits for local business men and everyone there had to dress sharp. Downtown was the center of activity as we all know. Very metropolitan. I always wondered what became of all those ladies. They had some shocking stories to tell of what they went through. No one here could believe how bad things were becoming overseas during these years.

Edited by Vertigo58
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  • 1 month later...

My mother says that when she went to Galveston during the war that the businesses and restaurants on Seawall Blvd. had black out rules. No lights were allowed to show. You had to enter one door and let that one close behind you before you entered the next. It was even forbidden to use your headlights while driving at night on the Seawall or while driving south toward it.

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  • 1 year later...
I am also interested in geography and cartography. But almost all books about WWII presented maps from our point of view... in other words, it showed the 1938 borders with occupied areas colored in. But what did a German map of, say, 1942 Europe look like? Obviously they didn't show Poland or Austria on their maps. To them, these countries no longer existed. And what would Europe have looked like had the Nazis won the war? What were their plans?

Fortunately, in recent years, books have started incorporating such things and many interesting WWII atlases have hit the bookshelves in recent years.

The german library of information in NY published a periodical in the us called Facts in Review. It is full of maps. They show things like the Czech threat to the existance of germany (czech bombers could reach all of germany, hence the nation is living on borrowed time till they annex Czechslovakia. Never mind that there was not a Czech air force. Others show the polish plans for invasion, britian as the aggessive nation (compares the area of german to the area of britain and its commonwealth)

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What we call war today is a joke! In WWII, everyone was engaged, and their lives profoundly affected by the event, and everyone made sacrifices, be it blood, separation from family, or inconvenience in daily life.

I would't call this war a joke. Obviously it's not as bad. The reason there isn't as musch war effort from everybody is simple, this war is not A WORLD WAR. So before you diss this war, try to remember the whole world is not invloved.

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  • The title was changed to Houston In World War II

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