In Baltimore, we also served

May 31, 1994|By Helen J. Rizzo

WE ALSO served who only stayed behind and kept busy. It was 50 years ago -- and yet those World War II years remain indelibly fixed in my mind.

Nothing we did for our country seemed too much. We civilians on the homefront built up the morale of our fighting forces. We worked long hours. We submitted good-naturedly to rationing of gasoline, coffee, sugar and meat. We bought war bonds. We buttoned our lips. We blacked out our homes for air-raid drills. We volunteered our services to all manner of patriotic organizations. We gave our blood (to the Red Cross), sweat and tears, just as our fighting forces did.

Even before the war, I was a congenital volunteer, so it was good to feel wanted. Volunteers were surrounded by worthy causes and crusades.

It was difficult to decide where to offer one's services first, so I spread mine as thinly as possible and joined as many volunteer organizations as my secretarial career would permit.

I became a blood donor, but I also started blacking out on the afternoon of a blood letting, leaving my boss with a desk full of unfinished work. At his suggestion, I withdrew my corpuscles from the war effort.

Undaunted, I joined Civil Defense. I became a combination precinct recording and corresponding secretary, air raid warden, meeting room coordinator and air raid literature dispenser. I had an impressive title: Precinct Adjutant -- Precinct F, Zone 1, Southwestern District.

I don't think the high command of the Allied forces met as frequently as we did. This was, after all, war!

I felt far more successful at another of my wartime callings -- that of nurse's aide. We were really needed, and there's nothing like a hospital to give one that no-nonsense sense of dedication. (Ask any candy striper.) The most menial tasks gave me a feeling of gratification, and I'd even give quick, proud parting pats to the hospital beds I made.

The war years went by quickly. We perennial volunteers counted our man-hours of free labor with real satisfaction. We collected pins, plaques, ribbons, scrolls, certificates and commendations as assiduously as squirrels gather their winter larder, for they would be our proof decades later when our grandchildren asked about the Great War.

Why was there so much esprit de corps? We were united in a mighty effort that we knew for certain was necessary and noble. We could feel the pulsing of a nation with one goal in mind. And individually, we had a feeling that in a small way we were working to shape a better world. Sometimes we came to the uplifting conviction that when the end came, our lives would have mattered.

Helen J. Rizzo writes from Baltimore.

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