Like a lot of us, I am absolutely in the help line whenever a spot opens. As a younger and, unquestionably, more arrogant version of me, I prided myself in the most frivolous of things, such as not asking for assistance in almost any circumstance. For example, looking for an item in the grocery store took me up and down aisle after aisle for as long as it took to either find that box of quinoa on my own or rethink the purchase and decide that rice works just as well.
However, among the many gifts bestowed upon us as we age, perhaps the greatest is the realization that there is no shame in accepting a helping hand. And, so it has been with me when it comes to topics to cover in my columns and features.
This time my helping hand comes from John Whitley, who dropped off for me a yellowed and crinkly copy of the Cleveland Press dated May 17, 1941, a daily paper I’d frankly forgotten and one that enjoyed a nice century-plus run from 1878 to its final edition on June 17, 1982. Once upon a time, not only did it surpass the Plain Dealer as Cleveland’s preferred daily newspaper but it also became a nationally respected publication when it came to raising issues that mattered most to blue-collar workers.
As for the news that day, while the winds of war wouldn’t be fully felt until that fateful Dec. 7 less than seven months later in Pearl Harbor, I did notice in my perusal quite a bit of news from the armed services, one of which appeared on Page 11 and had all the appearances of a regular weekly feature, one entitled “We’re in the Army Now!” What followed was a series of letters written home by young men in the armed forces. Despite identifying one branch in the title, I noticed there were also letters from Navy seaman and Marine Corp privates in addition to several from Army infantrymen and Air Corp men.
The letters provide some glimpses into the men’s training and their acclimation to a lifestyle so very different than the civilian one they left behind before they made the commitment to join a line of national defense that would most certainly be tested in just a few short months. And, with few exceptions, every one of the letter writers used their middle initial, which I attributed to the more formal way people referred to themselves back then.
As I read their insights and about both their complaints and their accomplishments, some I found to be particularly revealing. Private Robert W. Trautman wrote to his mom, telling her, “The Army’s all right, but I’ll never complain again about those little things you asked me to do.” Clyde D. Carter followed some grumbling about how difficult Army life was at first when he arrived at Fort Lewis in Washington with his obvious pride over having recently been made squad leader of his marching section.
I also found it amusing and, no doubt, a glimpse into the past when a dollar really meant something when I saw at the end of the full half-page of letters, a page by the way, that was a whopping seventeen inches side to side, almost six inches wider than most newspapers today, a list of names under the heading “Today’s Winners of Dollar Prizes.” That’s right, folks. The above letters deemed to be the best earned their authors one big old greenback!
As for the human interest stories, file this one under “Sign of the Times,” since it’s been years since I’ve seen any kid engaging in this activity. The headline above the story read, “4 More in Marbles Meet Capture District Honors.” The newspaper sponsored the tournament for Cleveland area elementary and junior high schools, and the story said “the shooters” were competing for a chance to advance to the national finals at the famous summer resort in Wildwood, New Jersey. When I saw the diction choice in calling the young competitors “shooters,” I couldn’t help but think of how that word in a far different context appears in today’s daily news, a sad sign of our times.
As for crime, unlike typical newspapers of today where stories of crimes seem to predominate on so many days, there was only one small story, which told of an assault of Beldon Burt, 70 years old, who was robbed in his own driveway by a youth of $2.
On the sports page, the stories reflected the interests of the era. Of course, there was a large story on the hometown Indians and their fast start to the baseball season. In these far less PC-sensitive times, the banner headline told the result of an Indian win over the Red Sox the day before, “Fast-stepping Redskins Collect 14 Hits in Collecting 9-3 Decision.” Other sports stories covered a regatta off the banks of the Muskingum River in Ohio’s oldest city, Marietta, and boxing, both far more widely appealing sporting activities than today. The boxing story made reference to Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini, a Youngstown native, who was training for a bout against Sammy Angott, called “the handsome Italian.”
If that nickname and last name sound familiar to you, you are remembering Lenny’s son, Ray, who would come along years later, who also went by Boom Boom in his rise in what has been called the sweet science to lightweight champion of the world, but, sadly, along the way beating a South Korean boxer, Duk Koo Kim, so badly Kim collapsed, went into a coma and succumbed four days after the bout.
Certainly my thanks to John Whitley, who gave me an opportunity to enlighten you a bit about what mattered in the world of journalism in Cleveland in a far different world, May 17, 1941, just seven months before the first bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbor’s Hickam Field.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.