I have always been proud of the fact I helped win WW2 with the aid of my little brown wagon. Back then, we all learned about WW2 from baritone voices on the radio. The radio voices came into our home night after night and informed us of the fall of Poland, the invasion of France and the nightly bombing of London.
But we were at peace and our favorite programs on the radio were The Fred Allen’s comedy show, The Adventures of Ellery Queen and Jack Benny.
That was until December 7, 1941. I was a young kid and did not understand the importance of the voice on the radio that said, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor today; the USA is at war. All along our street one by one every neighbor’s radio was turned on and stayed on all day and into the night. The next day the flag at PS 225 was at half mast.
In early January a few little flags with a blue star appeared on our street. They were hung in front windows indicating a member of the family was serving in the military. One night, the horizon out in the Atlantic glowed red and we learned later that German U-boats had torpedoed and sunk two oil tankers just outside the entrance to New York Harbor. Street lights were masked, electric billboards were turned off and windows were darkened for the rest of the war.
We put a flag with a blue star in our window for my brother, Ken and then a second star for my uncle, Mike. My father went to work at the Brooklyn Navy yard. My mother worked part time in a nearby factory that made army shirts.
Back then, there was no such thing as recycling, so the Salvage for Victory campaign was launched by the government to reclaim materials for the war effort, like waste paper, scrap metal, old rags, rubber and empty cans.
I told my parents I wanted to do my part in the war effort. The fancy red steel wagons were hard to find so they scouted around and bought me a locally-built little brown wooden wagon.
I loved my brown wagon. Every day after school and on weekends I would go with two friends from house to house gathering yesterday’s newspapers. In those days, every household purchased at least two newspapers; one morning, one evening, every day.
When my mother went shopping I would sometimes help and go with my little brown wagon from shop to shop, bakery, dairy and eggs, green grocer and butcher. Shopping for vegetables, my mother met a friend. The two women kissed and asked each other, How is your boy? Each had a son far away in the army, and each knew that yesterday, one of our neighbors had replaced the blue star with a gold star.
My wagon had been beautifully build to last by a local handyman. It was easy to pull even when it was stacked with newspapers. As we went by, people would say, There go the kids with the fancy brown wagon.
We delivered the papers to the local Air Raid Wardens’ station, set up in a store front. Sometimes when we came in overloaded with paper, the wardens would let out a loud cheer. They painted big squares on the floor to give each of the regular paper gatherers a handy spot. There were spots marked for five synagogues, six churches, the Boy Scouts, the 60th precinct, the Salvation Army and one day, a new spot marked, The Brown Wagon.
Shel Haber, a stage, film and television art director, is co-publisher of The Nyack Villager.