First of all, I want to announce that I am not a hysterical revisionist. In my Feb. 6 column, I mentioned that the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on Dec. 7, 1942; the correct year is 1941. Both my editor and I missed it: my bad, he badder.
This mistake did have one positive effect, however. I received more e-mail and blog posts than ever before, proving that no bad deed goes totally unrewarded. Many of these e-mails were very flattering, and some requested more about Asheville during World War II.
I think I should tell you that even though I was too young to serve in the military, I should have received a Purple Heart for sustaining an injury during service to my country.
America was serious about this war and there was great fear that somehow our cities might be bombed by the Axis powers. A core of voluntary civilian air-raid wardens was established nationwide and, of course, Asheville participated.
My dad, like almost every able-bodied man not in the military, volunteered for service and training. They were taught first aid, firefighting and civilian population control in an emergency.
I volunteered as an air-raid messenger; we rode bicycles and had two main responsibilities. The first was to provide communication between the chief wardens and the foot patrols and other command posts. There was almost no wireless communication available. My headquarters was at Woolsey Dip at the intersection of Merrimon Avenue and Weaver Boulevard. Another post I was dispatched to was on Charlotte Street near the Manor Hotel.
Our second responsibility was cruising the neighborhoods during air-raid drills to help enforce a total blackout. The object, of course, was to avoid giving the enemy any light source that could act as a beacon for them to bomb our city.
Air-raid drills were announced in advance on our only radio station, WWNC, and when the siren on top of the Public Works Building sounded, everyone was to turn off their lights and draw their blackout curtains. Only emergency vehicles were allowed on the streets, and they operated with minimal lights or no lights at all.
I covered the area roughly bordered by Farwood, Kimberly, Charlotte Street, Murdock and Merrimon. If I observed any light source, I immediately found a patrolling warden and reported it to him. He then went to the house and addressed the problem. If someone was away from home and had left a porch light on, I believe the wardens were authorized to break out the light.
I knew this neighborhood like the back of my hand and was pretty well qualified to navigate the streets, even though they were pitch-black. But one night, as I was racing back down Murdock Avenue to headquarters to report that my sector was secure, the worst possible coincidence took place: I ran head-on into another air-raid messenger coming the other way.
It was a terrible collision. I was knocked out for several minutes, and when I came to my senses, the other messenger was trying to get his head together. I guess we determined that we weren’t seriously injured, and I managed to get my damaged bike down to headquarters to make my report. I never did know who he was.
I had a few cuts and bruises and a big knot on my head for about a week, and even though I didn’t get my Purple Heart, it was good for bragging rights at school.
Another incident occurred during the time when scarce commodities such as gas, sugar, butter and meat were rationed. Ceiling prices were established to prevent war profiteering. Still, some very unscrupulous people dealt in what was known as the “black market,” selling rationed goods at exorbitant prices.
I went camping on Spivey Mountain with my Boy Scout troop. Some of the parents dropped us off at the bottom of the mountain, and we hiked up with our camping gear and pitched our tents by this wonderful mountain stream.
After a great afternoon mostly spent playing in the stream, we built our fires and cooked our supper. All of a sudden one of the scouts screamed, “Blood!!!!”
We all raced to him, and he pointed to the stream that was running red with blood. It was horrifying, but our scoutmaster kept his head and calmed us all down. He called a powwow and let us all discuss what we should do, which had an additional calming effect. He pointed out that it was getting too dark to try to make our way down the mountain, as someone might get hurt or lost. We agreed to stay put till daylight, and then we would investigate the source of the blood and make our next decision. We took turns serving as lookouts in small groups, and doubtless the scoutmaster stayed up all night to make sure we were as safe as possible.
The next morning, a select group of us hiked farther up the mountain, and we found a macabre scene. Apparently some black marketeers had taken several head of cattle up on the mountain and butchered them away from the scrutiny of the ration-enforcement people. They had taken the meat to sell and left the unwanted portions of the carcasses behind. The culprits were all gone, and to this day I don’t know how they got those cattle up that mountain and how they got the meat down.
We didn’t waste any time getting out of there and back down the mountain to the pickup point.
I am sure our scoutmaster reported the incident, but I never heard any more about it.
Well, children, that’s all the war stories I can conjure up today, as my editor only gives me 1,000 words, but if I made any mistakes or you have other comments, please keep those blogs and e-mails coming.
[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at email@example.com.]