Contributed by Richard (Digger) Vogt
717 Crane Prairie Way
Osprey, Fl., 34229
December 7th 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Launched a surprise attack on the U S. naval base in Pearl Harbor and The majority of the U. S. naval fleet was in ruins while at anchor. "A day that will live in infamy" declared the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The country was angry, the country vowed revenge, and Finktown went to war!!!!!!
I returned from a day at Dains farm on a Sunday afternoon and my mother informed me that the Japanese had attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. I was Nine years old at the time and it really didn't mean that much to me as I remember. Little did I know the impact that the coming war would have on my family and my life. The young men of Finktown knew what was coming. It was only a matter of time when those of draftable age would be called by their Uncle Sammy to put down their pool cues and pick up a rifle. They were gonna be soldiers!!! Many enlisted in the various branches of service and some waited for the draft. The war really put a dent in the pool of eligible bachelors in Finktown. Those who were drafted ended up in the army and the boys who enlisted usually opted for the U. S. Navy. A few brave souls went into the U S Marines. There was an abundance of going away parties held in the neighborhood for quite a while. Some were married with children and were drafted along with the single men. (Uncle Sam was an equal opportunity employer!!) There were only a few families in the neighborhood that didn't have to give up one or more of their boys to the war effort. Most of the boys who went into the service had never even left Peekskill before, so it was a significant event in their lives and in the lives of their loved ones.
Finktown immediately went into the defense mode. Homeowners were notified of new wartime regulations which affected all the residents. Blackout shades, air raid drills, (I can still hear the warden yelling "get those lights out") during a nighttime air raid drill. Car headlights had to be painted black halfway down from the top of the light lens. Rationing of just about every commodity available to the public went into effect. Gas stamps were issued to those fortunate enough to own a car. Items like sugar, and meat could only be purchased in the amounts compatible with the value of ones food stamps.
And worst of all, nylon stockings were almost impossible to buy. Women resorted to painting the seam ( yes, there were seams in the stockings in the old days) on their legs so they appeared to be wearing nylons. ( hooray! no more runs !). I remember my uncle used to come up from Brooklyn with a case of condensed milk every few weeks and that was like manna from heaven. Man, lighten the coffee and sweeten it in one application, now that was something. He lived in the section of Brooklyn that was controlled by the Gallo boys so I imagine there was a lot of contraband available there.
Gasoline was hard to come by unless you knew where the black market gas was available. There was a station out near Barmore Hill where it was readily available, if a driver was willing to part with some green. Like almost everything else, stamps were distributed to automobile owners according to their needs and amounts were limited. Most people didn't keep their cars on the road and those that did had many ways to conserve fuel. They would coast down hills, and just slow down when they had to pick someone up and let the person jump onto the running board while the car was in motion. Some mixed kerosene with the gas to stretch it and wow, the car would really smoke. Cars had a distinctive smell in those days, oil mixed with gasoline fumes, and when I catch a whiff of that smell, to this day, it takes me back.
Coal and kerosene were scarce and expensive so many people took to burning wood. I remember Nick Daletto had a rig in his backyard to saw logs. It was a 30 inch steel blade with large sharp teeth mounted on a shaft attached to a platform and the blade was driven by a large belt that was wrapped around the rear tire of what I would guess was a 30 or 31 Dodge. No body, just the drive train , engine and tranny with wheels. That thing would really whine when it was cutting through a log. Start the Dodge, throw it in gear and you were ready to saw some wood. When not in use, a half car tire was placed on the blade for safety. Talk about a dangerous operation, this was it!!!!!
The city fathers thought it would be patriotic if everyone had a garden, so they had Charlie Ingersoll come down to Finch Street and plow up a large section of land down in back of Pisani's property. The plowed area was sectioned off and people planted what were then called victory gardens. I remember one fellow who used to ride up on a bike to tend his plot. Needless to say, Finktown ate good from those gardens.
Most of us had brothers serving in the war zones and were proud of it. One guy in the neighborhood was in the army and had the misfortune of being stationed at West Point. He was home just about every night and when he drove through the neighborhood he really got razzed by all of the kids on the corner. I don’t know why he didn't take a different route home , maybe he never thought of it. One particular night he drove through and someone yelled "slaaacker". He jammed on the brakes, exited his car and inquired as to who made the remark. Dom Delia was on the corner with us and he walked over to him and said, "I did". The soldier got back in his car. Man, Dom was now our hero! And really a big hero to none other than sweet Cora Williams. Dom entered the marines a short time later.
Parents who had boys serving in the armed forces had flags in the windows of their homes with the number of stars on the flag corresponding to the number of familymembers serving. My house proudly displayed Three Stars. A gold star indicated a serviceman killed in action. I knew of one family displaying a gold star. Subsequent to the wars end, a fife and drum corps was named in his honor. (The Charles Neidhardt Memorial Fife And Drum Corps). Charles Neidhardt 1942
There were paper drives constantly and there were also scrap metal drives. Aluminum foil from various packaging was always rolled up into a large ball and donated during the scrap drives. Lucky strike cigarettes changed the color of their package from green to red with the slogan "Lucky Strike goes to war". Conservation was the rule. Don't waste anything. The boys need our support was ever in the mind of every Finktowner. We were taught patriotic songs in grade school and sang them at rallies held to promote war bond sales. "Put your shoulder to the wheel, Let the foe know how we feel", was one song I remember singing at a rally held in Depew Park. There wasn't much to be had, but Finktown did put it's shoulder to the wheel.
There was an encampment of British sailors out on Main Street and they could usually be seen staggering out to their camp at dusk. They weren't really made to feel at home by the Peekskill boys, but I do recall that quite a few of the Peekskill girls appointed themselves as sort of ambassador's to Britain. This of course, led to frequent hostile action by some of the Peekskill gladiators. The fact that the British sailors were sleeping in tents probably just made that normal British disposition a little more tart. They didn't stay very long as I recall. I remember convoys of army trucks loaded with soldiers rolling down Main Street on the way to somewhere and the GI’s throwing handfuls of letters to the bystanders to be mailed for them. Bomber squadrons would fly over Finktown once in a while and that would create quite a stir among the residents.
Finktown was definitely a more quiet place with all the boys away fighting overseas in the war. But thankfully, the war finally came to an end and there were wild, crazy, jubilant celebrations in the friendly town and the boys started coming home. Some changed for the better and some not so. The main thing was that I believe all the Finktown Boys returned safely home. I think Dominic Lazarro was captured by the Germans and held for a while, but he too, eventually returned home in one piece. Most of the boys signed up for the 52/20 club. It was a government benefit to the veterans where they were given 20 dollars a week for a period of 52 weeks. ( It was pretty good money in those days). Many vets signed onto the G.I. bill to go back to school or start a business venture. The people of Finktown got on with their lives and everything went back to being what it was before the war. Still a place where you could be entertained by the neighborhood, the atmosphere, and the characters that roamed the streets, hung out on the corners, and helped make FInktown the unforgettable place that it was.
Richard (Digger) Vogt
Class of 1950
March 30, 2009
(Your comments are welcome)
Digger has added an additional chapter to the Winters in Finktown which was published nationally. Click HERE to continue the saga.