When Angels Went To War
In 1942, 400 East High School students were drafted to fight in World War II. Out of those who left, only 100 made it back. “These boys wanted to go to war, they wanted to stand up for their country,” said Dick Nelson, the author of Flights of Angels. In January 1942, American soldiers were sent to Europe to fight Germany, Italy, and Japan. At that time, Germany was invading many European countries as well as imprisoning and murdering Jewish in concentration camps. By 1945, 400,000 Americans had died in the war, 300 of those being students that came from East. Students today face many problems, but nothing compared to losing 300 friends so unexpectedly.
Once the East students heard about the war many were eager to fight for their country. If a person was 17 or 18 years old and male, they were drafted. While half of these students were glad to go, others went against their will. East students left behind their friends, teachers, and homes when they became soldiers. It wasn’t only students who went to war at that time, but teachers too. In 1942, sixteen teachers served in the nation's armed forces. The yearbook of 1942 quotes, “To these teachers go all the best wishes from the faculty and the student body.”
During the war, the highschool held many patriotic assemblies and events. These events were appreciated because the war encouraged a strong patriotism among the majority of students. In our divided time, not everyone shares that kind of enthusiasm for our government, though we might all be patriotic in our own way. This is another one of the many differences between East High School now and East in the early 1940s.
During the war, there were shortages of many items, including resources that East students relied upon. “Families who lived on farms had it easier than the East families who lived in the city,” Nelson says. Farm families had all their food right in front of them whereas city families had to buy everything from the store, which was often low on food and goods. Nelson remembers having to make his butter by hand. In addition, paper was scarce, which made it impossible to print an East yearbook in 1943.
Students that were not eligible to go or who were not selected, including all of the girls, were left behind having to live an everyday life when they had no idea if their friends, siblings, or teachers had died that day. This was hard for the left-behind students, so they decided to find ways that they could help. One way girls helped was by volunteering in hospitals, which was called candy striping. So many doctors and nurses were needed in the war to help soldiers, so hospitals were short-staffed. Another way the students helped was by knitting socks for the soldiers in class. As the 1942 yearbook states, “Mrs. Anderson’s office was besieged by almost hysterical girls who wanted to start a motor corps, do red cross work- anything.”
The school allowed the students to start many new clubs such as red cross club, knitting, and fundraising. They ended up knitting many socks and clothes for soldiers and raising at least $45,000 for soldiers and soldiers' families. The patriotic assemblies that the school held were called “Salute to America” and included presentations of the pledge of allegiance and the Gettysburg address. As the writers of the East 1942 yearbook wrote, “And inside each of us is something new, a new feeling of esprit de corps, a new sense of having a place, of being needed.”