Brought up as a young child during WWII on her family farm in Iowa, Dorothy Feisel recounts stories from her childhood about being raised during WWII and how the symbolism of the conflict affected her years after the conflict ceased. Despite being in the center of America, she still recalls how the reality of war made her feel connected with the soldiers, especially those from her home state.
Fireside Chats and the Radio
Iowa is in the middle of the country; we were quiet isolated from what was going on both coasts. But, we were very much involved in the whole war effort in ways that we can kind of explore. When the fireside chats were on, we had old radios that had a light-up tube in them. We were told that when it was blackout time and they had blackouts in Iowa, you must not have your radio uncovered and on because that little light could shine and you would become a target. [chuckles] It sounds preposterous. I think about some of these things and yes it’s really funny, but we believed it. So, I can remember a neighbor lady and her two little girls came to our house and we were all huddled under a blanket with the radio under the table in front of us and listened to F.D.R’s talk.
Milkweed Plant and the Sullivan Brothers
There’s a plant called the milkweed. And the milkweed produces a pod that when it ripens and opens it produces a floss. We would pick the pods, in the fall, when we would walk to school and put them in burlap bags and they were picked up. Supposedly this fluff could be used to fill life jackets because they couldn’t get kapok, which is what life jackets were filled with then. And so we were saving the lives of sailors. And this was especially important. I really can’t remember how early in the war, but a ship went down carrying five brothers from Iowa: The Sullivan Brothers. This changed so much. They never again allowed brothers to be on the same ship. Because they were from Iowa, everybody was aware of this. We lost servicemen from our little farming community because all the young men went to war.
Raising a Japanese Flag in Yokohama
But I have to share one other story with you. I told you about the symbol of the Japanese flag. In 1969, our family went to Taiwan for a year—my husband taught there. We took three young children and we went by freighter. And freighter travel is very interesting, you go into ports where things are unloaded. And at that time, it was not these big containers, they were just starting to use the containers. You’d be in a port for 3 or 4 days. We sailed from California across to Yokohama, Japan. As we came into that harbor, the tradition is that when a ship comes in to port in a foreign country, they raise that country’s flag. I was on the deck and I did a total panic when I saw that Japanese flag go up. I just sat there. Here this was, what? Thirty years later. And it still had that effect on me. We were thoroughly indoctrinated. You are learning about some of the things that were going on with the Vietnam war and the Korean war before that, but there were demonstrations against it. There were not demonstrations that I was aware of during WWII. We all believed—you can read now and you can see that Roosevelt probably made some serious mistakes. And a lot of things—we’ve been to Pearl Harbor, we’ve been on the ship, and so on. But that symbol of that Japanese flag was really terrible. We’ve had some good friends since then who have been of Japanese background. We’ve travelled some in Japan. I have no problem with the people. I certainly didn’t grow up thinking that they were all evil people, but the soldiers were trying to kill us.