New Oral History on World War II and the Home Front in Cambridge
The Cambridge Historical Commission is pleased to announce the publication of Common Cause, Uncommon Courage: World War II and the Home Front in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Seaman First Class John Daniliuk was only 17 years old in 1943 when he took over the gun on the USS Cabot after his friend was killed. “I tried to be a good sailor. I didn’t get any ranks, but I was in charge of different things, like the gun crew. I didn’t really think I could do it, but I did. I’d done the best I could.” Daniliuk’s story is one of a hundred included in Common Cause, Uncommon Courage: World War II and the Home Front in Cambridge, a remarkable collection of oral histories.
The book is the product of a four-year oral history project conducted by oral historian Sarah Boyer of the Cambridge Historical Commission. She interviewed more than 125 veterans, home front participants, and families about their experiences during World War II, both in Cambridge and overseas in the European, China-Burma-India, and Pacific theaters. For many of the contributors, this was the first time they had shared their stories of the war. Army privates like Stan Richardson, Dom DePrimio, and Manny Almeida vividly remembered being under fire, getting wounded, and seeing their buddies killed. POWs such as Ned Handy and Joe Lovoi described the grinding daily routine of life in a POW camp, where food and freedom became the most precious commodities. Mabel Collymore proudly related taking on the traditionally male job of turret lathe operator at the Charlestown Navy Yard, while Myrtle Byars remembered dancing at the segregated USO in Boston with African American soldiers on leave. Louise Sette, a new mother of a one-year-old daughter, waited for and worried about her husband, Ralph, stationed in the Pacific, while Eleanor Connolly and her mother were given the terrible news that brother and son George Fulkerson had been killed at Guadalcanal.
For all these men and women, World War II was a defining moment in their lives. Almost everyone, both in the services and at home, pulled together to support the war effort; no one questioned the sacrifices needed to defend the country. In taking over so-called “men’s jobs,” women home front workers developed new skills and a sense of independence, which would continue past the war’s end. The integration at the end of the war of a few African American battalions into previously all white combat units—black and white men fighting together, side by side—helped to overturn stereotypes and hastened the end of the segregated armed services.
Boyer hopes the oral histories in Common Cause, Uncommon Courage will introduce young people to a more personal way to explore the past and encourage them to learn the real-life stories behind the textbook facts about World War II—perhaps better to understand the lives of their own grandparents. The book also includes historical introductions that highlight important events at home and abroad for each year of the conflict, and three hundred illustrations, many from personal collections.
The book, is $25/copy, and $20 for seniors (anyone 65 years and older). It is available at the following Cambridge locations: Cambridge Historical Commission, 831 Mass. Avenue, 2nd Fl.; Rodney’s Bookstore, 698 Mass. Avenue; Harvard Bookstore, 1256 Mass. Avenue; the Harvard Coop, 1400 Mass. Avenue; Porter Square Books, Porter Square Shopping Center; and Borders Books at the Cambridgeside Galleria in East Cambridge.
Contact Person: Sarah Boyer
Tel. 617 349-6171