The Light Of Hope
Christmas 1945 came to New Martinsville as men and women who had been away in the service of their country were returning home. Many had not seen their loved ones for several years. Our town had for the last four years welcomed Christmas as it also remembered those away from home.
Early that year they celebrated VE-Day with the end of fighting in Europe. Then in August the war in the Pacific came to an end and the country celebrated VJ-Day. Peace had once again returned to the world and our small community.
As I read through the newspaper accounts of those four years, I realized how our community had come together to not only support our troops, but those still at home. We often remember the great sacrifices of those who went away during the war, but in reading the Wetzel Democrat I came to realize how important those who worked and sacrificed at home were to our country.
That moment in the history of our town has begun to fade as time slips by. Many of those who worked so hard for our country may no longer be with us today. But, in many ways their legacy of self sacrifices is still alive in the community they helped to build.
As I reviewed the paper’s edition just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, all seemed normal for a small town. Less than a week later, war had begun; our community stepped up and had taken on war time operations. Then four years later Japan surrendered and the following week’s edition came out and the community quickly stepped into its next roll; one of receiving its soldiers home and rebuilding lives.
Each week, the paper ran long lists of names of returning service men from the county in the fall of 1945. Those returning veterans had given up jobs and working farms four years earlier to serve their country. Now they were coming home by the hundreds. Wives, who had stepped into caring for homes and working traditional jobs of men, were now returning to lives before the war. I can only imagine for men and women, those who served and those who stayed behind on the home front, it had to be a difficult transition back to normal.
During the war, people were encouraged to buy War Bonds to help support the war effort. But as soon as the war ended those War Bonds were replaced with Victory Bonds. In an advertisement for Victory Loans they were sold with words such as these. “Well it’s over We came through the greatest danger in our history, to our greatest Victory. The price of that victory-in blood and in money was high. We can thank God that the price in blood is paid in full. There will be no more deaths in battle, no more new casualties. But the price in money is still not quiet paid!” These are the words of the U.S. Treasury Advertisement in the fall of 1945.
On the front page of the Wetzel Democrat December 20, 1945, were these words, “The Spirit of Christmas, The real gift this Christmas, a present with a future is a VICTORY “E” BOND.” The advertisement went on to say all bonds sold by noon Dec. 31, 1945, would go towards Wetzel meeting its quota. On the same page was a story told of Santa visiting downtown and being in the local stores giving out candy to children. A few pages further was an advertisement for Gross Department Store, reminding parents to bring kids into TOYLAND. Also on Main Street Froelich and Wayman Company had for sale, rocking horse for Christmas.
The paper reminds me of the downtown I knew growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Main Street flourished with businesses, where people came to shop for Christmas with smiles on their faces. The Memorial Building was once a place in our community where citizens gathered to support the war effort. As they gathered there the names of those who served our country held a place of honor on the walls of the building surrounding them. New Martinsville was a community of people who shared pride in our small town.
I noticed one other story in that year’s paper. Social Security aids over 4 million beneficiaries in the U.S each month. Of that number 2 million were old-age benefits. Additional payments were also paid for 640,000 dependent children and 70,000 disabled by blindness. The story went on to explain the government program provided benefits and payments exceeding eight billion dollars in 1945. In contrast to those numbers today, in a single month, April 2010 the Federal Government paid benefits to 1,187,763 persons of retirement age. It also paid additional benefits to 6,566,600 to those with blindness and disabilities. Total moneys paid in 2010, $702 billion. For the entire year nearly 54 million were beneficiaries of benefits from the program. How times have changed.
One other organization that made a difference during the war was our local churches. As I read the weekly editions I noticed events hoping to bring spiritual strength into the community during that troubling time. As the war ended many were thankful their prayers had been answered and perhaps that Christmas of 1945 Peace on Earth could be truly celebrated.
On the morning of Dec. 23, 1945, families of our community attended church with a sense of peace not known since Dec. 7, 1941. In sermons that Sunday morning, ministers may have spoke of the return of peace. I wondered as they stood looking at the men, women, and children of the congregations what words they may have chosen to speak. Perhaps they may have been similar to these.
“We come together this day as a family to strengthen our belief in faith and the renewal of life. We know long ago in a far place, a baby came into this world. He came among us to show us the way home when we are lost. Each year at this time, a holiday we call Christmas comes upon us. We decorate green trees in our homes and place gifts below them that we share with family. We trade a smile with those we pass on the downtown streets. We remember those who are of need in our community, even for the smallest of things in life. This year, we begin to find joy that was taken from us when we heard the news that Sunday morning in 1941. Each day now we look about us and recognize those who are returning from war. For some returning, only time will heal their injuries.
“For others, the injuries are within their souls, healing may need the Hand of God and our understanding of their pain. For some families loved ones will never return to the lives they knew before the war. For others emptiness fills the darkness for those lost in the war and will never return to home and family. That terrible emptiness of never knowing the resting place of a loved one may be the darkest place of all. This day, let us remember that we each were given hope as His light came into our world and may we share that with those around us who need the Light of Hope. In a small town, called Bethlehem, the Light of Hope was born for each of us. That light gives us hope to be reborn. Peace has come to our community and may peace come into your family once again.”
I hope this glimpse into our community 70 years ago brings understanding of how special our town is that we live in. Also, please remember those away from home and family at this time of year in the service of our country. From the staff of the Wetzel Chronicle and my wife and I, we wish you a Merry Holiday Season and best wishes for a Happy New Year as we all look Thru the Lens.