Sallie Van Arsdale, 1944

Over There: Winnetkans Serving in WWII and Supporting the War Effort at Home

Bert Sullivan enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a 17-year-old.

Originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Gazette, by Charles Shabica

When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, war to an American was the “War in Europe.” It wasn’t until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that President Roosevelt (FDR) committed us to that same war (“A date which will live in infamy,” he said). A bunch of Chicago area kids wanted to fight for their country, and the folks at home stepped up to the plate to do their part for America.

Bert Sullivan (1927-2013) was a 17-year-old Eagle Scout when he enthusiastically enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After basic training, Bert, an experienced sailor and Sea Scout at Wilmette Harbor, was assigned to the USS Trousdale to skipper an LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized). When the Trousdale crossed the equator, Petty Officer Bert O. Sullivan, a “Pollywog,” was initiated into the august society of “Shellbacks.” Despite a kamikaze attack during the invasion of Okinawa, Bert survived the war and returned home to work as a counselor at Boy Scout Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan.

Another Winnetka resident, Everett P. (Tuck) Weaver (1918-2012) at age 24, served on the oldest submarine to see combat in WWII. Built in 1918, the S-30 miraculously survived a depth charge attack on one of Tuck’s first cruises. Tuck went on to serve as Deck Officer aboard the USS Barb under Commander Eugene B. Fluckey. Barb was the U.S. Navy’s most successful submarine with more than 29 Japanese ships sunk and one railroad train blown-up. “The Navy has no finer officer than Tuck Weaver,” wrote Admiral Fluckey in 1996.

While Tuck was “down below,” Lieutenant Samuel Kruty (1921-2007) of Chicago was flying a B-17 Flying Fortress as bombardier with the newly developed and highly secret Norden bombsight. Sam was assigned to the 390th Bomb Group under Colonel Joseph A. Moller, a WWI veteran and Winnetka resident. On his 35th mission, Sam’s B-17 was shot down near Charleroi, Belgium. He escaped and was able to keep the bombsight out of enemy hands.

Ensign Sally Welsh (Van Arsdale) in 1944, volunteered for WAVES, the Women’s Branch of the Naval Reserve. Her uniform now is in the WHS Costume Collection.

In a recent conversation with Winnetkan Sally Van Arsdale, we learned that she was a student at Vassar College and was dating another young Winnetkan, Dick Washburne when the war broke out. Dick enlisted and joined the Army Air Corps (500th Bomb Group). Sadly Dick’s plane was shot down over Germany in 1943 and he was killed. Sally was devastated and decided to do her part by joining the newly established Women’s Branch of the Naval Reserve (WAVES) as Ensign Sally Welsh. And thank you Eleanor Roosevelt for encouraging FDR to allowwomen to serve in the military as WACS (Women’s Army Corps) and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

While our friends and family fought in Europe and the Pacific, folks at home looked forward to President Roosevelt’s Radio Fireside Chats (a powerful way for uniting U.S. citizens, especially since he delivered only 30 addresses). He is quoted as saying, “The one thing I dread is that my talks should be so frequent as to lose their effectiveness.”

Citizens and communities all over the country looked for ways to support the war effort. Ted Rockwell (1923-2013), a Winnetka kid and amateur radio operator, graduated New Trier High School on the cusp of the “Atomic Age.” Ted decided he wanted to serve our country by working toward safe atomic energy production. During the war, he worked on the atomic bomb project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After the war, he helped develop nuclear power plants and was awarded two Distinguished Service Medals from the U.S. Army for his work.

Winnetkans had already learned from WWI what “Service at Home” meant. The Village organized a Civilian Defense Council with block wardens who communicated possible air raids by telephone. Many families designated places in their basements as bomb shelters. Ours was my mother’s canning closet where we stockpiled jugs of water, candles, and cans of beans. We were prepared for air raids where the town air-raid siren warned us to blackout the house (no lights) and go to the bomb shelter (today, the Tuesday 10 a.m. siren brings back memories for some of us old timers).

The Village ran a salvage program (a prototype for Junk Week today), where neighbors collected scrap metal, rubber, and waste paper to put out on the parkway for pickup and conversion into war materials. One poster read, “Save your junk, Uncle Sam needs it. An old set of golf clubs will make a machine gun!” Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helped by canvassing their neighborhoods for stuff useful for the war effort and cheerfully sang WWI songs like “Over There,” “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” and “God Bless America.”

On V-J Day, August 14, 1945, Winnetkan Mary Lawlor, a Lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), was stationed in Berlin and remembered the feeling of joy when news of the war’s end was received, since many soldiers dreaded transfer to the Pacific. We’re grateful to those who served our country, including Everett Allen, Herman Lackner, Jane Lord, Mrs. David Bridewell, Phillip Hoza, Philip Schaff, Bob Woolson, Stewart Carlson, and the 22 sons and one daughter who were killed in the war. ■

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