From Francie Potter, President of the Allegany Area Historical Association:
"When my daughter, Linda Potter, was a grad student at the University of Michigan, she participated in a Media History seminar that focused on creating an oral history of the 'home front" during World War II. She interviewed her father, Bob Potter, for the project. We think you might enjoy it and it might also bring back some memories for our older members."
Born in 1931, Robert Potter was a child when World War II began. Still residing in the town in which he grew up, he is able to recall how Allegany, N.Y., a small town 70 miles south of Buffalo, reacted.
" We had gone to my grandparents', who lived about 150 miles away. It was a winter's day and we were coming back. I remember the first time I heard it was on the car radio. I wasn't sure what had happened. I asked my parents and they said there was a war that wouldn't last very long. Since Christmas was coming, my thoughts went to that, although I know the adults were very concerned about the war. I didn't think about the war until the winter of '42. We went down to Florida and stopped at the military bases to visit some family that had been drafted. We had seen some naval training planes landing and taking off. I had seen the military and as a child, was quite impressed by it. (I) thought "this is really kind of neat to have an army" and you knew they were invincible. I thought the war going to be short and was sure we would win.
My father was either too old, or because of his business, wasn't drafted. He served on the ration board and that was his contribution to the war effort. I had several uncles and one cousin drafted into the army. They would write back (home). I think it was called V-mail.
We had never heard of the United States losing and every book we picked up documented how great we were. We had a movie house in town, upstairs over the post office. There were some newsreels which were quite ancient. The movies produced during World War II showed our people fighting the Japanese. We got our impressions of how strong and how good an army we had. Because there were many people of German extraction in town, we didn't regard the Germans as being quite so bad as the Japanese.
The teachers tried to keep us informed of what was happening in the war, particularly if we were winning. Many programs had to be discontinued, such as shop and some athletics, because there was no one there to coach or direct those facets of school life.
We were taught what to do in case of air raids. There was a warning system, and we would go home or go under our desks at school. Generally, we would go home. We would bring money to school and buy (saving) stamps. When you got enough stamps, you could buy a $25 maturity bond. This was a big thing for us to buy these stamps. They formed groups of us to do things, like collecting tin cans. We, junior commandos, in the fall collected milkweed pods. They told us the milkweed pods were used for fill in the life jackets in the navy. I guess that was true. We went out with bags and collected milkweed pods and collected tin cans.
We had blackouts. They would sound a siren and everyone would turn out their lights. There were neighborhood blackout wardens. My father and the people next door were that. They would walk up and down the street and make sure there were no lights showing anywhere. I found that to be exciting and scary; I didn't know how to tell the real from the make-believe.
We played war games. This is a vivid memory. We had armies and would have battles through the back lots. We played at war quite seriously. My best friend had a wooden 30-caliber machine gun that his father made. That alone made us victorious in many of our war games. We knew the war was going our way from the movies. The local paper had banner headlines about Midway. I can remember reading that. There was so much propaganda, as I look back now, that we probably didn't know half of what we thought we knew.
Prior to World War II, the mothers of my friends didn't work. By '42 or '43, there was a factory in Allegany called Acme Electric. Many of the women had gone to work there. This I thought was a little strange. My mother didn't work but other mothers were working. I wasn't able to understand why some mothers worked and some didn't.
We had no idea of what an atomic bomb was, what it might have done to people. I can remember the headlines. I can't remember having much feeling about it, except I knew it would end the war. We knew it was the right thing to do, or at least we thought so. There's no doubt that World War II changed my life and made the world smaller. The town of Allegany can never go back to what it was prior to 1941, which was a small country town, typical of many. The radio was the way people kept up. People didn't travel, but World War II brought soldiers back and made the world a lot smaller. It made people more aware of the problems in the world and aware that we aren't always on the side of right. People I talk to, they look back and see how times have changed, and they use it as a base to say "before World War II" or "after World War II." It's a base of change in their lives and a change in the community.