Frances “Francie” Miller, born October 15, 1937, was a child who lived in New Jersey, Florida and Panama during WWII. A younger sister to Martha Holland, she talks about the nightmares she had about the war and the time she spent with her father on the military base when he was a PX in the Panama Canal.
This is an ID bracelet. I don’t know if it was sort of considered important for every kid to have one, in case they got separated from their families during an air raid or something. But I used it mainly as a hopscotch token. I don’t know if you know about hopscotch, but it’s a thing where you draw squares, and then you throw your token into number 1, 2, 3, and then you hop over it when you get to it each time. You can barely see my name anymore, because this was a fabulous hopscotch token. I can’t tell you if it was a serious attempt to ID me, but I’m assuming it must have been.
I have two dreams that are occurring still, and they have to come out of the war years. One of them was of myself rushing around in the garden. My mother is weeding, oblivious to the bombs dropping out of the sky. And I’m, you know, catching them, trying to keep her from being blown up. That’s one of the dreams that I have had. I don’t have them anymore, but I had them a lot. So obviously there was something going on in the kid brain that was aware of stuff happening out there that I wasn’t sort of processing. I don’t think I have pictures of bombs dropping that I drew in kindergarten or anything. That dream was really something.
The other one involved a trapdoor in my grandfather’s closet, which actually went to our attic. But when I dreamed about it, it went to Europe directly. If I went through the trapdoor, I could find bombed-out Europe. How I knew about it as a kid, I don’t know. It must have been photographs. Oh, no, it was newsreels. But I’d bring kids back through the trapdoor to my house.
Then one day I went to sleep, I couldn’t get through the trapdoor anymore, I was too big. Awhh, it was awful. I woke up weeping. But obviously, my subconscious had gotten tired of my thinking that I was going to be, you know, rescuing kids from Europe, so it gave me a good knock on the head.
School on Panamanian Army Base
And you went to school. I went to school with a lot of kids who were actually Panamanian, I think, because I learned how to fight in that school year. Took that skill home with me, which was not appreciated by the rather nice, middle-class school I went to when I got home. It was on the playground type of fighting, you know. They would call you “gringa,” and off we’d go.
But, you see, none of this is as if I was aware of why I was there. I remember the school would let you out when a ship was coming through the canal taking soldiers and sailors home. The ships would go up and down, and the sailors, when they could see all of these kids lined up, they’d fling they’re hats to us. And their hats all had their names on them. And I wore that hat for four years after the war; I was really, very proud of that hat. If it had an address on it, I might have written to him. I have no idea where it went. My mother probably decided, after four years of hard wear, it needed to go to the dump.
End of War
Then, after the end of the war, my father celebrated with me with a banana split. I had never even heard of a banana split, but here was this huge bowl of ice cream, my gosh, with all, you know, this stuff on it. I tried hard, I managed to eat about a quarter of it, and he helped, of course. But, you know, it was sort of a huge indulgence.