Memories of the 1940's

By: Jean Koistinen


My favorite decade is the 1940's. So much happened in those ten years. Volumes have been written about the people and events. For me, it was a time of excitement, romance and achievement.


I graduated in June from NYU-Hofstra and received an NYU degree. Before graduation the class voted to have Glenn Miller, already known as one of the top Big Bands, for the Senior Prom. Little did the class realize they could not fully cover the cost and that they would go down in history indebted to the college for bailing them out. When in 1949 Glenn Miller was officially recognized as the most popular dance band in the world and was awarded a golden disk for selling more than a million copies of 'Chatanooga Choo Choo' did the class of '40 feel exonerated.


This was the Big Band era. Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, as well as Glenn Miller and

"others, were danceable and the music was singable.

Glen Island Casino across the Sound in Westchester featured them all and an alternate was dancing on the Boardwalk at Jones Beach to lesser known artists. Some of the movie theaters in NYC featured Big Band concerts. The Paramount in particular, had Benny Goodman, whose 'Sing Sing Sing' almost caused structural damage to the theater. A lot of the music was sentimental and romantic - 'I'll Get By', 'Jealousy', 'I'll be Seeing You' .


When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941

and President Roosevelt declared war, there were new priorities. My brother immediately applied for the Marine Officer's Training School even though he still had a year or more of college. Black out curtains were purchased, the cellar was organized as a bomb shelter and black outs were observed. Everyone volunteered for a role in the war effort - wardens, knitters, bondage rollers etc. The Red Cross recruited and transported young women like me to dance and attend movies with servicemen at Mitchell Field. The Town Hall Club in NYC sought single women to dance with visiting Naval officers (we loved the Aussies). Tin foil was saved and rolled into balls for collection. Grease was delivered to butcher shops for use in explosives. Ration books were issued by the government. Sugar, coffee, meat and canned goods were among the rationed items. Worst of all were shoes. Two coupons a year, if you could find the shoes. I strode through much of the war in baby blue ballet type slippers

no matter what the rest of the outfit might be. Cigarettes were not rationed but much in demand. Because I worked, I would alert my mother and both grandmas to where they might be available. Only single packs could be had, but grandma would go back and deliver to me such delicacies as maple walnut and cherry mint. I would innocently ask 'Where are the Luckies?'


Gas rationing was tough and very strictly enforced. When my brother was married in Garden City, we were told his family and the brides were each allowed one car at the church and reception. Some East Williston guests took the LIRR to Jamaica and returned to Garden City. Some stalwart couples walked (it was a hot July 4th) and some were guests of Al Valentine in his Tally-Ho (see picture in EW Library). His fame as the sled-driver was overshadowed as he piloted the Tally-Ho to the wedding.


In 1942, in the process of changing jobs, I ended up at

Columbia University Department of Physics.  My

employer while head of the Physics Dept. was also Dean of the Graduate School and later I learned he was the Director of The Colombia University Division of War Research. His staff consisted of 3 women, myself and 2 others, and we each had specific areas of responsibility. I was "Los Alamos" and draft deferment. I wrote convincing letters to local draft boards about the deferment of these young physicists and their relation to Los Alamos. I took attendance at meetings (no minutes), later on I would shred attendance sheets and any stray notes left behind. On Fridays I took a letter (accompanied by a security guard) to be certified to Los Alamos.


In July 1945 radio and papers announced 'Atomic Bomb Tested at Los Alamos.' At last I knew. I felt as though I had done it myself! Soon after, bombs were dropped at Hiroshima (8/6/45) and at Nagasake (8/9/45) and on 8/14/45 Japan surrendered. Immediately my friends and I headed to Times Square. The only place to be as the war ended.


In August 1947, my future husband and I followed up on an ad announcing Levitt building units for Veterans to rent at $65/month. Applications were available at the Manhasset office. We qualified and were assigned #212. We found the location of #212 and saw the house go up in 2 or 3 days. On December 24, 1947 we moved into #212.


If I was ever told I could relive a decade - I would choose the 1940's. I loved it!