Jazz, war dominate memories of '40s

We asked News-Sentinel readers to send us their memories of the 1940s. Here are two of the responses we received. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

Life was good in Fort Wayne in the 1940s. My life was integrated with The News-Sentinel during this time. I carried The News-Sentinel in the Lafayette-East Rudisill area for a number of years. In 1947-48, I worked in The News-Sentinel mailroom, next to the roaring presses.

I attended South Side High School from 1944 to 1948, and in addition to playing in the high school band, I began playing in dance bands composed of high school students, as most of the adult musicians were in the service.

As my various contemporary dance-band leaders were drafted and/or left for college, I found myself as leader of Dick Pepple and his Orchestra. We played for many school functions, proms and adult club functions. A big part of our career as a band was playing for dances at the Service Men's Club on Washington Boulevard just west of Calhoun Street.

After the war ended, some of us joined Local 58 of the American Federation of Musicians and worked with professional Fort Wayne dance bands. My first was with Johnny West. One schoolmate who started with my band was Tom Archer, who is still a prominent jazz pianist around town and one of the founders of the Fort Wayne Jazz Club.

Experience with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic under Hans Schweiger gave me a start on a professional music career in New York. As the decade came to a close, I studied music at Indiana University, as the School of Music began its climb toward becoming one of the top music schools in the country.

— Richard Pepple

Richard Pepple lives in Wabash.

As graduates of the South Side High School class of 1945, my classmates and I spent our entire high school tenures in the shadow of war.

As the threat of war rumbled, the end of 1941 brought a new airfield to the south side of the city. Named Baer Field in honor of the World War I ace from Fort Wayne, Paul Baer, it was meant to be a major military installation for the Army Air Corps. It covered an imposing 907 acres and would, eventually, house more than 2,000 servicemen and women.

Then came Pearl Harbor. In addition to Baer Field, a training facility was established on the south side of the city. Known as Camp Scott, it was the home of the 130th Railroad Battalion. Its purpose was to train men in rail operations and maintenance to move war materials out of the defense plants.

And we had surely become a major supplier of war materials. Tokheim and Wayne Pump made bombs; International Harvester built trucks for the military; General Electric produced aircraft superchargers; Magnavox created submarine detection devices and electronic gear. Factories hummed along -- seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

We were all well aware that factories and military bases made Fort Wayne a potential target if war came to our shores. For the first time in its history -- and, God willing, the last time ever -- air-raid drills were held at South Side High School with students huddling in the halls, showers and laundry rooms.

World War II was like no other war before or since. As the draft took sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors and classmates, commitment from civilians was total and uncompromising.

Senior Girl Scouts at South Side learned home nursing from the American Red Cross. Teacher Pearl Rehorst enlisted as a nurse's aide. Principal R. Nelson Snider became rationing coordinator for Allen County. Faculty members took on the added responsibility of issuing rationing books for gasoline, meat, tires and shoes. The PTA mothers of South Side registered women for work in war plants. Shop classes turned from teaching boys how to make knickknacks for the home to teaching boys, and especially girls, how to work in factories after graduation.

Scrap metal was collected from everywhere. Commando courses were conducted in the gym, and gym classes concentrated on keeping students physically fit and ready for the armed services.

The school established a War Council. Military personnel conducted Armistice Day assemblies. The botany department planted a Victory Garden. Students made model airplanes to be used to teach servicemen to identify enemy planes. Books and magazines were collected, puzzles and Christmas decorations crafted -- all sent off to military camps.

Instead of being educators, teachers such as Francis Fay became warriors. Reports detailing South Side's contributions to the war effort received recognition by Washington, D.C., and the school newspaper, the Times, received the Victory Star.

South Side High School had itself a genuine hero in alumnus Walker "Bud" Mahurin, the United States' top air ace in 1944 who downed 21 enemy planes before being shot down over France. After his rescue by the French underground, he was sent home to promote the sale of war bonds.

Weekly programs were held at South Side to report the week's sale of war stamps and bonds. Mayor Harry W. Baals and other prominent officials of the city attended the rallies, which were broadcast on WOWO-AM.

The response to the purchase of war bonds and stamps was, in itself, a tribute to the spirit of South Side. In 1944 nearly $500,000 worth was dedicated to the purchase of two planes, a B-24 and a B-25 bomber; in 1945, nearly $2 million. It was a small price to pay -- one that we paid gladly.

Each time one passed the "Servicemen's Shrine," created in 1943 and given a prominent place of honor in the school, one was reminded of those Archers serving in the Armed Forces, some who would never again walk the halls of South Side.

On a June night in 1945, as the names of the graduates were called and the sounds of their identity reverberated off the walls of the South Side High School gymnasium, some were already marching to the beat of a different drummer. Nearly three dozen of our classmates, eager to serve their country, had enlisted rather than wait for graduation day and the draft. Along with the graduates of the class of '45, anxious parents accepted their children's diplomas.

After three years in the Navy, Ernest Walker rejoined the faculty at South Side High School. Ervin Rodey joined the teaching staff after his discharge from the Navy. Miss Thorne's homeroom adopted a young English war orphan. The foreign language department adopted a Dutch war orphan.

Life goes on. . .

-- Lois Bender Dinkel

Lois Bender Dinkel is president of the South Side High School Alumni Association.

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