West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

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Now Tom McLaughlin, he was almost ready to get out of the army when the war came. He'd been drafted four years before, with the idea that this war was going on in Europe and we were going to be ready. So then he was in for the duration of the war.

Rosemarie's friend Bill went in December of '41, just after Pearl Harbor. My brother Ed went in July of '42, and then Vince went in August.

I went in to see Chuck Hanna, and I told him that Vince was going into the service the next morning. He said, "Well, go see him off."

So we went to Our Lady of Sorrows for mass in the morning, and then I saw him off downtown at the train station. When I got to work Mr. Hanna called me into his office. "What was it like?"

I said, "It was terrible. Here all these women are hanging on to these men. And then after the men got on the train, the women are all hanging on to the posts outside the train, and they're all crying and screaming."

He said, "Get the hell out of here. I called you in here to sympathize with you. I see you don't need it."

I said, "All is not lost. He's only going to Camp Grant."

I thought it was ridiculous the way they were carrying on in the station, like they would never see them again. It's true, some never did. But they were just going to Rockford--Camp Grant was in Rockford.

Ma had a friend, Mrs. Drum, who lived in Rockford. She said, "Well, why don't you have Jo come up for a weekend? She can stay here and visit Vince at Camp Grant."

I made arrangements to go, and then I got a call. Vince was shipping out. He was going to Texas. He wouldn't be there. So I called Mrs. Drum and told her, "I'm sorry, he shipped out yesterday." She said, "Why don't you bring your sister Rosemarie with you instead? We can have a nice time. We'll show you the town. We have a lot of things we were going to do with you, and we can still do them."

So Rosemarie and I went. We were wined and dined--wonderful meals and all that. But I was never so bored in my life. The thought that I was going to see Vince up there, and now here I am with my sister. I love my sister but . . .

One of the things about that trip that I've always remembered, they had shelves loaded with food--canned food in the basement, all the way to the ceiling. If Mrs. Drum would use a can for dinner, the next day she would go to the store and buy that same exact can to put in the basement. This was because things were being rationed and you needed blue points to get canned goods. They were afraid that the war would go on and on and there would be nothing to eat. They were sure there were going to be shortages. But you should have seen the meals they put on the table. They were gigantic.

That taught me something--don't be so selfish. If the rest of the world is going to starve, starve with them.

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