Previous    Next    Contents  

 

CHAPTER 6

 

LOCAL VOLUNTEERISM

 

The level of volunteerism which abounded during the Second World War in and around Atlantic City, "the worldís playground," extended from wealthy to poor, business people to common workers. A partial listing of volunteer groups, their numbers, and time spent in service to others is shown below:

month.

Last, but most important, are the Surgical Dressing Volunteers of Southern Jersey who for two years, until October, made all the surgical dressing used at this hospital. This averaged 500,000 per month and all of

48

 

the curing was done by a few women in the Atlantic City Group (1945 Annual Report 68).

Other groups and organizations had, likewise, donated either the services of their members or provided funds that were used to cover expenses not covered by the government. Some of these were listed in the 1945 Annual Report:

These groups all came under the organizational guide of the Southern Jersey Camp and Hospital Council (69) .

There was an urgent need for volunteers for the United Service Organizations (USO) in Atlantic City. [USO was founded in 1941 to provide United States military personnel with clubs and centers that served social, educational and religious needs. It was staffed largely by unpaid volunteers and funded by private contributions.] In response, almost two thousand women from Atlantic City and the surrounding communities offered their free time to act as USO hostesses and dance partners, first to the new Army recruits and, later, to aid the wounded and amputees. USO centers sprang up all over Atlantic City. Some, but not all, are listed here: Jewish Community Center,

YMCA, Elks Club, Knights of Columbus, Churches of various denominations, Arcade Building, and one facility on the Boardwalk (Atlantic City Remembers, 28).

The term "Gray Ladies" did not refer to a group of elderly women. The Gray Ladies were a part of the Red Cross and wore gray uniforms with gray veils on their heads. They did things for the patients, as opposed to on the patients as a nurse would do. Some of the services they provided for the patients were: Wrote letters, shopped for gifts for family members, and walked them on the Boardwalk if they were in wheel chairs. Eleanor Raven, who, along with her husband Ziggy, were the owners of the Coral Reef, a novelty store on the Boardwalk, recalls:

We saw the women and soldiers pushing those charming young men in wheelchairs -- saw the young and injured missing an arm or leg - it made us feel so bad - and we were grateful for what they had done for us. They used to come into our store to buy stuffed dogs made from lambskin fur for their sweethearts or sisters or mothers. We would ship them to their families all over the country. They were also crazy about the pig banks - we had large papa pigs, medium momma pigs, and small baby pigs -- and in such brilliant colors: bright blue, bright yellow and bright red. They took those with them, in the original boxes, because they were ceramic (Raven interview, 01/22/98).

Mrs. Sophie Nestor was one of the Gray Lady volunteers. While her husband, George, was overseas fighting the war, she felt that, if she helped other service men here in the US, someone else would help her husband, wherever he might be. This desire to help service men while they were stationed in Atlantic City was a common one among the Gray Ladies. Mrs. Nestor stated that "from January to June of 1945, I volunteered more than one thousand hours as a Gray Lady (Nestor interview, 10/15/97)." She was also responsible for scheduling the day, date, and time when groups or family members could visit with the servicemen. Sophie took great pride in making sure that people were given accommodations and families could get together (Nestor interview, 10/15/97) .

A unique group of volunteers working with the military stationed or hospitalized in Atlantic City were affectionately known as the Army Moms. This movement began when several local women volunteered to sew for the soldiers; things were done such as replacing buttons on uniforms, mending or altering shirt sleeves and trousers, and sewing on uniform patches. Before long, more than three hundred Moms were helping to fill the void of a soldierís real life mom. The following poem, dedicated to the Army Moms, by Pvt. Leo Schottland in his book, Marching Along, shows the high esteem in which these women were held.

Army Moms

My shirt buttons are loose, Mom,

And my sleeves are much too long.

I know that you will fix them, Mom,

Cause we feel that you belong.

Iíve just become a Corporal, Mom,

But the arms of my shirt are bare,

So Iíve brought my stripes to you, Mom,

Here, in your room by the stair.

Thereís lots of cutting and sewing, Mom,

On all of our issued clothes,

But itís never a worry to us, Mom,

Cause we go where the wise soldier goes.

To the little room by the side of the stair,

Where our genial Moms hold sway,

With needle and thread and measuring tape

From ten to four each day.

You work each day at the barracks

and by night at the U.S.O.

But never a man have you let down

The boys will tell you so.

Itís always a pleasant smile you have

Though the day or night be drear

You sweet little sisters of Uncle Sam,

Whom we soldiers hold so dear. (29)

Among many of the churches in Atlantic City were rooms and hideaways into which soldiers could find solace. Some also provided spare rooms for visiting relatives and loved ones, and some had recreational rooms in which were housed record players, pianos and radios. Presbyterian Hospitality House was one such facility opened to the military men. Appendix B is a poem that describes how much of an impact this specific hospitality house made on one soldier.

Many local residents hosted servicemen to dinner at their private homes on a regular basis. Mary Haynie, an Atlantic City native, remembers how generous the people of Atlantic City were, even though they were still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. An illustration of that generosity includes her family. Although her father was only able to work a few days each week, she recalls Sunday dinners with three or four soldiers as guests. That was the first and last time she saw many of them (M. Haynie interview, 11/12/97). Others would invite the families of servicemen, coming in from out of town, to stay as guests while they visited with their loved ones or looked for work in order to stay close by.

Although segregation of the races was still a part of society at the time of World War II, African-Americans pitched in, according to former Atlantic City Fire Director, Marvin Beatty, Jr.

The locals did everything possible to keep the troops entertained when they were on liberty. Black people are survivors, and even though there was discrimination, the support for the war and helping all soldiers was very strong in the African-American community (Atlantic City Remembers, 15).

While working as an operator for the telephone company, located on the Central Pier, on the Boardwalk, Mrs. Nestor would make connections for the servicemen. To her knowledge, those long distance calls to their loved ones, no matter how far from Atlantic City, were never charged to the caller, nor were they made as collect calls. It remains a mystery as to who paid for the calls (Nestor interview, 10/15/97).

Another instance remembered by Mrs. Nestor was the time a wealthy Greek couple from out of state arrived in town to sponsor a free dinner, at a local Greek restaurant, for any Greek soldiers serving in the US military. Notices were hung in the barracks, the recreational facilities, the hospital buildings, and along the Boardwalk in order to include as many soldiers as possible.

Former Councilman John Whittington reflected on his mother, Florence, and her contributions during the war:

She would read to the soldiers at Thomas England Hospital and bake cookies, pies, and cakes -- anything that she could do for them . . . She was most concerned about helping the soldiers and making them feel comfortable, and she hoped that someone would do the same thing for me

and my brothers if anything happened to us. (Atlantic City Remembers, 16)

A prominent Southern New Jersey author, Gay Talese, described in his book Unto the Sons, that his father was part of the "citizensí committee of shore patrolmen who kept watch along the waterfront at night, standing with binoculars on the boardwalk under the stanchioned lights that on the ocean side were painted black as a precaution against discovery by enemy submarines (Talese, 5)."