Christmas cheer survives the start of the war
On the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rochester finds ways to honor those who serve.
On Dec. 7, 1942, exactly one year after Pearl Harbor, the photographs of 500 local service men and women could be seen in the display window of the E.A. Knowlton department store in downtown Rochester.
The photographs had been collected in recent months by volunteers with the War History Committee, and were a reminder of how much in the life of Rochester had changed in the past 12 months. Only a year ago, many of the young people in the photographs might have been playing high school basketball, or rehearsing a holiday pageant at their church, or busily checking items off their Christmas shopping list.
Now, on what was already being called Pearl Harbor Day, they were flung by war to the far corners of the earth, their lives, and those of their families and communities, disrupted in unimaginable ways.
“More pictures are wanted,” the Post-Bulletin reported. “It is the aim of the committee to obtain a complete file of all men and women in the armed forces.”
And this was just the start of a war that would go on for nearly three more years.
On that one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor, it was announced that another 12,500 Minnesotans were expected to be registered for military service in the coming weeks. Young men living in Rochester were to register with the Rochester Selective Service Board at the Post Office building from Dec. 11 through Dec. 31. Meanwhile, 18-year-old men living in rural Olmsted County were directed to six local registration sites.
In many ways, citizens were still adjusting to the new wartime reality.
“Housewives must learn to buy with point stamps,” announced a Post-Bulletin headline. Rationing, which would put severe restrictions on products such as meat and sugar, was starting to affect menu planning in the land of plenty.
And it didn’t apply just to food items. Limits on gasoline and rubber meant most automobiles would be driven far fewer miles than normal. On Dec. 7, C.O. Brown, Rochester administrator of defense transportation, issued a plea urging motorists to keep their cars in good running order, despite the rationing. “To help save rubber, we are urging the use of public transportation,” Brown said. Private automobiles would still be needed, he said, because not everyone could take a bus to work.
Meanwhile, a meeting of Rochester area air raid wardens was called to prepare for upcoming blackout tests in the area. Wabasha, Goodhue and Winona counties would be blacked out from 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m the night of Dec. 7. Rochester would join a nine-state blackout two nights later.
It all sounded so ominous, but for many people, the familiar traditions of the holiday season provided welcome comfort. On Dec. 5, Santa Claus had popped out of a temporary fireplace at Mayo Civic Auditorium to the delight of 5,000 children of all ages.
Santa, whose girth was “apparently not affected in the least by rationing,” led the crowd in singing holiday songs, the Post-Bulletin reported. There was a short program, including “Christmas Night in Rochester,” presented by high school drama students.
Santa promised to be back on Christmas Eve, and as he departed, his elves handed out gift bags of candy, peanuts and caramel corn to every child.
Much in the world had changed in the preceding year. But a little Christmas cheer was more than welcome.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.