Pike, Catherine "Renee" Young
Catherine "Renee" Young Pike
Excerpt from Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front
Edited by Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith Published in 1991
Those Americans who were not fighting on the front lines during World War II worked on a different front—the home front, which fueled the entire war effort. The decade before the war had been a particularly bleak one for most Americans. The Great Depression, a period of severe economic slowdown, began in the United States in 1929. By 1932 approximately twelve million Americans were unemployed. But the nation's entry into World War II in December of 1941 brought a swift end to nearly twelve years of hardship and deprivation. High unemployment in the United States disappeared as government office positions and manufacturing jobs opened up in record numbers.
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt has been credited with inspiring the nation to reach phenomenal wartime production goals. "To change a whole nation from a basis of peace time production of implements of peace to a basis of war time production of implements of war is no easy task," noted Roosevelt in his January 6, 1941 message to Congress. According to Russell Freedman in Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "As late as 1940, the United States was so poorly prepared for war that soldiers trained with broomsticks for rifles and pieces of cardboard marked 'Tank.' And yet the nation's factories and shipyards were swiftly converted to produce planes, tanks, ships, and weapons."
War production boosted the American economy more than any government relief program ever could. Factories began churning out ammunition, bombers, jeeps, and other war supplies. As American men were drafted into or voluntarily signed up for service in the armed forces, the nation's women stepped into the work-force in unprecedented (never before seen) numbers. American production allowed Great Britain and the Soviet Union to battle against Germany's forces. And between 1942 and 1944, after the United States entered the war (see Franklin D. Roosevelt entry in chapter one for more information on America's entry into the war), American industry doubled its aircraft production from 4,800 military aircraft per year to more than 9,600 per year. The fabled image of tireless airplane assembler "Rosie the Riveter" became the archetype for female defense plant workers.
Fighting World War II cost the United States a whop-ping $200 billion. Funds were raised for the war effort through the sale of U.S. savings bonds, known as "war bonds," beginning in 1941, and through the addition of a 5 percent "victory tax" on all income taxes. Money and materials were saved through rationing—making goods available in fixed amounts, limiting access to scarce goods.
The U.S. government's Office of Price Administration (OPA) directed the rationing of scarce items. American shoppers were issued ration books that allowed each family member a limited share of certain products each month. Goods in especially short supply were rationed more strictly. Rationing of sugar, coffee, automobile tires, gasoline, and heating oil began in 1942. Americans had to keep their thermostats at a chilly 65° through the harsh winter of 1942-43. By 1943 shoes, cheese, fats, canned goods, and meat were being rationed. A pound of scarce items like sirloin steak, pork tenderloin, cheddar cheese, or even butter could cost an individual his or her entire weekly meat allotment.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front:
- Letters from home were a soldier's only link to loved ones and the "normalcy" of life in the States. Regular mail delivery was so important to American troops overseas that mail even got through to the beachheads of islands in the Pacific.
- The following excerpt features letters from Catherine "Renee" Young Pike to her husband, George Pike. The letters span a two-year period between February 1943 and January 1945, when Renee was living with her parents and younger brother and sister in Esmond, Rhode Island. Renee and George were married shortly before the Japanese attacked U.S. naval bases at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. George was drafted into the army in August of 1942. Renee was pregnant with their first child at the time. Little "Georgie" was born in March of 1943.
- Note Renee's comments on the butter shortage in February of 1943—there wasn't enough available to meet the ration allotments.
Excerpt from Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front
Esmond, Feb. 3, 1943
My darling Husband,
Last night I had a whole mix-up of dreams. But one thing I dreamed was that I was eating banana splits one right after the other and were they good! When I awakened I thought to myself "Boy, what I wouldn't give for a nice banana." But that is just wishful thinking. I don't think anyone in America has seen a banana for over six months.
Well, George, thecivilian population is certainly feeling the shortage of food-stuffs now. Last week we didn't have a scratch ofbutter in the house from Monday until Friday—and how I hate dry bread! It's a lot worse on we people in the country than it is on the city folks. They can go out and get some kind of meat every day while we have plenty of meatless days up here. They can also stand in line for 2 or 3 hours for a pound of butter, but up here there are no lines as there is no butter and when there is a little butter everyone gets a 1/4 of a pound. So you can imagine how far a 1/4 of a pound goes in this family of five adults. And that's suppose to last us for a week.
Yesterday I didn't take any meat not because we didn't have any but because I'm sick of the same thing. You see, the thing that they have the most of is sausages, but people can't keep eating the same thing every day.…
I received a swell letter from you yesterday. Gee, it seems that all the letters I 've got from you recently have been the nicest letters… I love you, George, more than anything in the whole, wide world.
Yours forever, Renee
Esmond, March 4, 1943
I've just been thinking that you'll miss getting my letters when I go the hospital, won't you? …
I'm beginning to get weary now and nervous. I want to go and get it over with. You see, Darling, I've gained 25 pounds since I first started [the pregnancy] and at the end like this you get sort of miserable. Last night after I got to bed I had what is known as "false labor." I had quite bad pains in my stomach but I didn't tell anyone and I dropped off to sleep after awhile. But it makes you think that your time has come, believe me.…
Honey, whether I've had the baby or whether I haven't why don't you ask for afurlough when you're through with your schooling. Of course you know better than me if you should but let me know what you think about it. O.K.?
I want to see you so much, Honey, and I miss you something awful, especially lately. I love you with all my heart and soul and body.
Yours forever, Renee
Esmond, June 6, 1944
… 6:45 a.m. The phone just rang about ten minutes ago. It was your mother. She told me thatthe Invasion had started. I just put on the radio and this time it's real. I don't quite know what to say, Sweet heart. It goes without saying that I feel very nervous and very afraid. I do feel though, that you weren't in this first wave. I hope and pray, Darling, that if I am right you will never have to go in. I suppose I want too much.…
As I listen to the radio here I can't understand why the Germans haven't given more opposition. Either they're pretty weak or they have somethingup their sleeve .
Well, Darling, for all I know you may be in combat when you receive this. I pray not. But if you are, please be careful and try and take care of yourself as well as is possible in battle.
Georgie just woke up so I'll have to go get him.
I love you, Sweetheart, and I'll always love you. I miss you terribly and I'll pray for you night and day. Georgie is saying, "Da-da" as loud as he can. Come back to us, Darling.
Yours now and forever, Renee
Esmond, June 9, 1944
It is a beautiful day here today. It's not too warm and not too cool. I just got through hanging out the baby's washing and as I stand in the yard looking up at the sky in the distant horizon I wondered where my Darling was and if he was all right. Three big four-motored bombers roared over about then. But you'd never know to look at this quiet calm little village that there was a terrible bloody conflict going on over there. You'd never know to look at this little village that there was a sad, heavy-hearted girl living in it, namely me.
I received two letters from you last night, Honey. They were written on Friday and Saturday, the 19th and 20th of May. I'd be very happy about it if the invasion hadn't started. I'm happy about it anyway, of course, but I wish the letter written on or before June 6th would hurry and come through.…
Yours now and always, Renee
P.S. Kisses and hugs from Georgie and me.
Esmond, Aug. 24, 1944
… I guess when I received the letter from you last night I nearly went hysterical for a minute. I felt so terrible to think that you had been hurt and even as I read your letter I was thanking God that that was all that was the matter, bad as it is.
After I had read your letter over about three times, I called your folks and told them to come up. George, I hate to cry in front of anyone so through will-power I kept myselfcomposed while they were here. But I didn't go to bed until 2:30 and I didn't sleep until about4:30. I wanted to write to you but I didn't know what to say. My thoughts were all jumbled.…
Well Sweetheart, I'll write again this afternoon or tonight as the mail from Esmond goes out in half an hour and I want this to go as soon as possible.
I hope your leg takes long enough to heal so that Germany will be finished. Don't be like you always are and pretend you can walk on it … before you really can. Please don't Darling.…
So until this afternoon God bless you and keep you and speed your safe return to me.
Yours forever and always, Renee
Esmond, Nov. 25, 1944
It is very cold here today and a thin blanket of snow covers the ground. As I hung out Georgie's wash this A.M. my hands became so cold that I could hardly move them. It made me think about you. Gosh, Honey, how can you shoot when your hands are stiff? I wonder if you'd like me to send you a couple of pairs of gloves? You could wear them when you're not shooting maybe. I don't want to send anything that's foolish, you understand.…
Well, Darling, no mail, no lovin,' no kissin,' no nothin'—so I guess I'll close for today.…
Yours for always, Renee
Esmond, Jan. 10 [?], 1945
My thoughts tonight are far-reaching. I know my thoughts of you are very tender ones. Perhaps it is the classical music on the radio, or perhaps it's just because it is Saturday night—our night that has prompted me to write tonight (my second letter to you today). Whatever the reason, I know I love you and miss you so terribly tonight.…
[My thoughts take] me back to a cold, windy night in Maryland. We were standing together in the darkness beside a building at Ft. Meade. It was almost time to say our last good-bye—almost time. You ran your fingers through my hair and said, "Whenever I feel cold, Honey, I'll think of you and I'll feel warm." I thought of how you hated to be cold, and I thought that soon you'd be leaving me, and I tried so hard not to cry and I said, "Oh no, don't ever be cold George; don't be cold, Honey." You ran your fingers through my hair again, "I'll be cold lots of times, Renee, but I'll just think of you."
I watched you until you were out of sight in the heavy fog that lay over Ft. Meade that night. There were terrible emotions fighting within me. I wanted to run after you; I wanted to call out your name, and I wanted to cry and cry and cry until I couldn't cry anymore.
Later, the cab driver must have sensed my feelings as he drove me to the train station. He said to me, "Is your husband going overseas?" I looked out into that deep, dense fog where you had gone, and I said, "Tonight may be the last time I will see him for a long, long time."
I hope this letter doesn't make you feel "blue," but just once I had to put my true feelings on paper. There will be more "cheery" letters tomorrow.
All my love, all my life—until that day when God brings you home safely to me. Renee
Esmond, Jan. 31, 1945 My Darling,
I really feel terrible to think that I'm sitting here in a nice warm, cozy house and you're out in that terrible cold fighting. Yes, I know you're fighting, Darling. I figure that you must have gone into action on January 30th before dawn. Your division has been mentioned in the paper as one of them. Your division has also been mentioned on the radio as one of the"crack" divisions… They also told about your unit receiving the Presidential Citation.…
This lonesomeness for you just gnaws at my heart continually. Oceans of love, Darling, and a kiss on every wave.
God bless you and keep you and speed your safe return to me.
All my love, all my life, Cathie (Litoff and Smith, pp. 84-90)
What happened next …
The war in Europe ended in May 1945 with the surrender of Germany to the Allied forces (the countries fighting against Germany, Italy and Japan, primarily the Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States). Fighting continued in the Pacific until shortly after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (See Harry S. Truman excerpt concerning the Manhattan Project and the Rodney Barker excerpt from The Hiroshima Maidens in chapter three for more information concerning the atomic bomb.) Devastated by the bombings, Japan signed formal surrender papers on September 2, 1945, bringing the long and bloody war to an official close.
After George's discharge from the army, the Pikes bought a house in Greenville, Rhode Island, opened up a bakery, and had two more children.
Did you know …
- More than twenty million wartime vegetable gardens— known as "victory gardens"—were planted by Americans in 1943. That year, the food grown in those gardens provided about a third of all the vegetables consumed in the United States.
- At the height of the war the U.S. armed forces had fifteen million people in its ranks.
- America's industrial workforce increased by more than 35 percent between 1940 and 1944.
- Executive Order 8802, issued by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, banned discrimination in the government and defense industries. The order paved the way for the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act by U.S. Congress.
- During World War II about 6.5 million women on the American home front held war-related jobs. The number of African American women in industry increased by a little more than 11 percent. But millions of women—black and white—found themselves unemployed in the fall of 1945, when the war ended and war industry production came to a grinding halt.
For More Information
Green, Anne Bosanko. One Woman's War. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1989.
Litoff, Judy Barrett, and David C. Smith, eds. Miss You: The World War II Letters of Barbara Wooddall Taylor and Charles E. Taylor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.
Litoff, Judy Barrett, and David C. Smith, eds. Dear Boys: World War II Letters from a Woman Back Home. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
Roosevelt, Anna Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York:Harper, 1961. Reprinted. New York: Da Capo, 1992.
Fly Girls. "The American Experience." PBS/WGBH, 1999.
Women at War: From the Home Front to the Front Lines. Atlas Video, 1989.
The Homefront Magazine. [Online] http://www.homefrontmag.org (accessed on September 6, 1999).
What Did You Do in the War, Grandma? [Online] http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/WWII_Women/WWTWref.html (accessed on September 6, 1999).
Group E: Rosie the Riveter and other Women World War II Heroes. [Online] http://www.u.arizona.edu/~kari/rosie.htm (accessed on September 6, 1999).
Bailey, Ronald H., and the editors of Time-Life Books. The Home Front: USA. "Time-Life Books World War II Series." Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1978.
Barck, Oscar Theodore, Jr., and Nelson Manfred Blake. Since 1900: A History of the United States in Our Times. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1959.
Brokaw, Tom. The Greatest Generation. New York: Random House, 1998.
Freedmen, Russell. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York: Clarion Books,1990.
Harris, Mark Jonathan, Franklin Mitchell, and Steven Schechter, eds. The
Homefront: America during World War II. Introduction by Studs Terkel. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1984.
Hoopes, Roy, ed. Americans Remember the Home Front: An Oral Narrative.New York: Hawthorn Books, 1977. Reprinted, 1992.
Litoff, Judy Barrett, and David C. Smith, eds. Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front. New York/UK: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. This I Remember. New York: Harper, 1949.
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1932-1945. Edited by B. D. Zevin. New York: Houghton, 1946.
Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Own Words
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), the first lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, is probably best remembered for her commitment to the improvement of human rights worldwide. Eleanor Roosevelt's memoirs include thought-provoking commentary on the World War II era.
- On British prime minister Winston Churchill … "I shall never cease to be grateful to Mr. Churchill for his leadership during the war [World War II]; his speeches were a tonic to us here in the United States as well as to his own people."
- On the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor … "I think it was steadying to know finally that the die was cast. One could no longer do anything but face the fact that this country [the United States] was in a war."
- On the presidency of her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt … "[The] President of the United States must think first of what he considers the greatest good of the people and the country… Franklin … always gave thought to what people said, but I have never known anyone less really influenced by others."
- On her own role during Roosevelt's presidency … "I think I sometimes acted as a spur, even though the spurring was not always wanted or welcome."
- On Roosevelt's death … "Though this was a terrible blow, somehow you had no chance to think of it as a personal sorrow. It was the sorrow of all those to whom this man … had been a symbol of strength and fortitude."