The attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in December, 1941, had put the United States at war with the Empire of the Rising Sun. Immediately after the attack, hundreds of young men from Niagara Falls were lining up at local recruiting offices in Niagara Falls to sign up for military service. One of those “young” men was my father. At 38, he was likely the oldest man in that line. Part of the recruiting process was to give each applicant a basic physical examination. As my father got to his turn with the doctor, he was surprised to see our family physician giving the exams. When Dr Rozan saw my dad he asked, “Pete, what are you doing here?” My father sad he was there to sign up. “You have a wife at home who is about to have a baby,” retorted Dr. Rozan. “Go home and take care of her. Right now, she needs you more than the army.” So, I was not yet born, but I was already changing the lives of people around me. Four months later I was delivered at St. Mary’s Hospital. The day held national significance because the United States had successfully launched its first retaliatory air raid against Japan by bombing Tokyo. The event is forever remembered as the Doolittle Raid. Four of my uncles signed up for military service; serving in the Army, Army Air Corps, and Navy. My earliest childhood memory is of my Uncle Louie, carrying my on his shoulder as he walked with our family out to the front of my grandparent’s house. It was a cold, wet December evening and a cab was waiting to take my uncle to the train station. He had been on leave and was returning to his training base in Mississippi. It would be the last time any of us would ever see Uncle Louie. He would die in a training accident at that same base. I was eight months old. During the war, my parents lived in a little apartment above a paint store; just a half-block from my grandparents’ house. I still can remember the large Sherwin Williams sign hanging outside our bedroom window. In January of 1945 my sister, Elizabeth, was born. Her joyous arrival made it quite obvious that the one-bedroom apartment was too small. Soon after we moved to a house on Hyde Park Boulevard. The war left me with other memories. I remember my Uncle Leo showing me how he polished his silver air corps wings with a pencil eraser. Before returning to his squadron as a tail gunner, he gave me an Army Air Corps shoulder patch as a souvenir. I remember my mom and dad and their friends playing horse races on a unique sheet of paper that was impregnated with several lines of flammable powder. Each line represented a horse and the bet was to see which line burned past the finish line first. A lit cigarette was touched to a spot at the starting point to ignite the lines. The other game was the ubiquitous punchboard. Every drug store had a board at the cash register. A “punch’ could cost as little as a penny and as much as a quarter. With a wire key, the customer would push out as many “punches” as he or she purchased. Each punch was a tiny, rolled up piece of paper printed with a number. Some of the numbers were prize winners giving payouts of cash or merchandise. One popular board awarded packs of cigarettes, while another offered a boxes of chocolates to the winners.  Only adults were allowed to play. The punchboard was an early version of the scratch-off lottery ticket.   My last wartime memory happened while we were still living above the paint store. It was the summer of 1945. The breeze was gently moving the curtains on our bedroom window as I sat on the bed watching my mother change my sister’s diaper. Suddenly, the church bells began to toll. Now, in Niagara Falls, there was a church on about every city block and all of the bells of all of the churches were pealing. I never heard anything like it before. I asked my mother what was happening. “The war is over,” she said with a gentle sigh.     
Born in a Time of War and Wonder Niagara FALLS NEW YORK
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii under attack by  Imperial Japan on December 7, 1941
Doolittle’s Raiders taking off from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, in the first offensive operation by the US against the Japanese homeland. They successfully bombed Tokyo and other targets creating a tremendous psychological coupe in Japan as well as in the United States.
Army Air Corps roundels shoulder patch
Sherwin Williams logo
Enlisted Man’s Wings  WWII, Army Air Corps
Punchboards had been used for gambling since the 18th century. In WWII, the boards also were used to help raise funds for the war effort.
Holy Trinity, R.C. Church. Our family parish.
Comic Strip from WWII featuring punchboards.
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