Author’s childhood memories of World War II
STONINGTON – When folks living in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., during World War II looked up to the sky several times a day, they weren’t checking the weather. They were checking on the dozens of barrage balloons that floated over the city during wartime.
According to Joan Rust of Stonington and a former Soo resident, the barrage balloons were used during the war to ward off a potential enemy attack from the sky.
“The Soo was very strategic during the war,” Joan explained. “The locks were essential to Great Lakes shipping because ships loaded with ore made their way through the locks on their way to steel mills that made things for war. It was all vital to the war effort. More than 15,000 troops were sent there to guard the locks.”
Joan, who recently published “Anniecat Chronicles,” a collection of the journals she kept and the and letters she shared with a friend throughout her youth and long into her adult life, dedicates a portion of her book to memories of growing up in the Soo and the memories and images that became part of the daily life of Soo residents.
“All we had to do was look up at the sky and we remembered the country was fighting a war,” Joan added.
Tourists were few and far between during those years.
“There were no seasonal tourists lining the lock walls, only soldiers endlessly marching back and forth along the piers,” she related in her Chronicle. “The waterfront parks became anti-aircraft gun emplacements. The park fountain where small feet splashed in time with the Canadian pipers was off limits and the pipers had gone to war.”
Another memory of the war years was the sale of defense stamps. War saving stamps were issued by the U.S. Treasury Department to help fund the war. During World War II, the lowest denomination was a 10-cent stamp that even youngsters were encouraged to purchase and collect in a booklet.
“They were only 10 cents apiece, but each time we purchased one, we felt we were going to help win the war,” Joan recalled with a smile. “Then when the war was over, we could get sugar for our cereal again. Sugar was rationed during the war and it was hard to get.”
The barrage balloons were an ever-present reminder of the war, as Joan recalled in her Chronicle. “As if such heavenly reminders were needed in addition to the blackout curtains, sirens, and searchlights.”
Although as a child Joan longed for a bicycle of her own, because of war shortages and rationing, she said she was 10 years old before she finally received one.
“There was no rubber to make tires and no metal to make the bike,” she explained. “My father knew someone who knew someone who had an old rusty bike. He got a 10-cent can of paint to paint it.
Joan said she was attending a Campfire Girls camp and the girls were eating breakfast when the word came that the war was over. “I remember a counselor running in to tell us and pretty soon people were running around talking about it and crying.”