We arrived in Clinton, Oklahoma the summer of 1945, after the war on the European front had ended, but it took two atomic bombs to bring the Japanese to the treaty table in September. One dropped on Hiroshima and another, the second one, on Nagasaki, three days later in early August. Clinton had strong ties with the military because the Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base was sixteen miles away. When the military waxed and waned, Clinton did so, as well. When we arrived it was still waxing because it took awhile to feel the effects of the final armistice.
As I look back to that year, I remember the relief people felt about the final end to the war on both sides of our continent. I never noticed much attention to the Japanese battles. It may have been that we didn’t have as much coverage on Japan because of its history of isolation. However, there was plenty of propaganda showing Japanese people with stereotyped cartoon features in our newsreels and other media. Japanese physical characteristics were easier for illustrators to ridicule and mimic in a hostile fashion, whereas, Germans looked more like “us”. I remember seeing the mushroom cloud images of the Atomic Bombs in newsreels and papers, but I don’t recall anyone's displeasure, sadness, or dissent about the hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens that were either killed outright or injured and maimed for decades after. Over sixty years, we’ve had debates among scholars and others as to whether the massive killing by the atomic bombs was necessary. Observing how at the end, the eastern front war was treated far differently than that in Europe, it can stimulate questions.
The military personnel and their families increased Clinton’s population to 7,000 by 1945. We recognized the significance of the military by large numbers of people dressed in uniform and the frequency in which we saw the sky filled with aircraft above. Clinton provided accommodations for the military in terms of hotel, housing, theatres, restaurants and it seemed to be a happy place when we arrived. When the war ended, similar to other places, Clinton had an increased demand for housing. People were moving to and fro, as orders came to end their assignments. My father worked for Oklahoma Gas Company and it was his job to help provide gas utilities for the increased need for gas in homes. Ironically, these services in high demand simultaneously provided a problem for us. We were unable to find a house because of the housing shortages. So, his company set us up in the Calmez Hotel until one became available. All of our belongings were placed in storage.
The Hotel Calmez was a six story red brick building. It was in downtown Clinton, walking distance to movie houses, churches, cafes, dime stores, and mercantile stores. An elementary school was three blocks away. It was a very hot summer when we moved into the hotel. Most of the time we stayed at the hotel because my father went to work in our only vehicle, the company truck. With the central location of the hotel we walked almost anywhere when we needed something. We ran our errands in the morning and in the afternoon we stayed close by the electric fans. After our naps, mother would go down stairs and obtain a full pitcher of ice water and Almond Joy candy bars. To this day, when I eat this chocolate candy bar with almonds that oozes cocoanut, my memory flashes back to that very hot summer. And I remember how it tasted then and I feel the wonderful ice water that cooled our bodies.
My little sister, Karen, and I had fun in the hotel. She was the pet of the waitresses and bell hops because she was younger. We played on our Murphy bed, that folded out from a closet. After sleeping on it all night, when we awoke we made it and then pushed it back into the closet and closed the door until time to sleep that evening. It gave us more room in our little suite.
However, my mother was not as intrigued with the hotel life as we began to adjust to it. It was due to my father’s changed behavior.
His behavior changed when we arrived in Clinton. It was tied to his new surroundings that provided plenty of entertainment. The casino and bar in the hotel were full every night. They catered to soldiers from the nearby military base and others who were working to provide the transitions for changes after the war. And there were plenty of pretty girls for entertainment, as well. This was in a state that was dry and considered gambling illegal. My father loved it. He was tall, dark complected, slender, and combed a full head of black hair. His blue eyes danced around as he engaged people in conversation. He read the newspaper every day and could discuss politics and sports events. He was a golfer, bowler, poker player, bridge player, and in general loved to have a good time. He went to the bar and casino every night, after being gone all day at work. My mother said the people who ran the bar and casino were part of the “Mafia” and their intent was to take all the young men’s money. And she saw it happening to my father.
My mother was not a gambler nor did she drink. But one night my father was late in coming to our hotel suite and she broke her will. She went looking for him. He was not in the bar or casino and his truck was parked in the parking lot. She grabbed us, found some keys and said we were going to look for him. She thought he was at a roadhouse on the edge of town where my father’s friends often went. She drove his truck and on the way, she stopped and bought a bottle of Mogan David Wine. When she failed to find him, she drank the whole bottle. She vomited several times that night. The next morning she wanted to stay in bed. She said she alone was responsible for the way she felt that morning. I never saw or heard of her drinking again.
Our move to Clinton was a significant turn in our lives. To say it was tied to the war ending is an over statement, but I associate the two because they stand out in my mind when many memories have faded.
My observations of the way Japanese were seen during the war and the way they had to experience two Atomic Bombs are partially seen through the eyes of a small child mixed with those of a mature adult. From studying history, observing newsreels and movies, and reading, I think there is still a need for discussion into the reasons Americans' opinions and treatment of the Japanese were different. There are many examples to draw from today. And by using different historical and sociological perspectives we could learn a lot more.
The Atomic Bomb is a subject that makes me most uncomfortable. Since my early experiences in life, I have seen documentary films that exposed how the A Bombs affected the Japanese. In the middle 1970s I saw a newly released declassified film, taken by the Japanese. For years our country would not allow it to be seen and I know why. On the spot cameras right after the A Bombs dropped filmed Japanese walking around in a stupor with skin hanging from their bodies, missing limbs, burns etched into their skins, and people dead, still sitting where they were when the bomb was dropped. People jumped into radiation filled ponds of water to cool them selves. Individuals searched for loved ones. Hundreds were incinerated the closer they were to the center of where the bombs fell. What the bombs did to them is a disgrace to humanity, I thought as I watched the film. The people were going about their daily lives and out of nowhere these bombs dropped on them. I was most shaken during and after the film.
So, when I talk about how the war was connected to my family, it is ludicrous to even suggest anything so absurd when I think about others' experiences. Should the Atomic Bombs have been used to bring an end to the war? Or should the second A Bomb have been dropped? I will leave that for experts to debate that have more information than I. But I still think it was a disgrace to humanity. All wars are horrendous. They just vary in kind. We did have a strong military and government leaders who brought victory to our country, making it safe for a period of time. I am grateful for that. The most I had to endure was parents who seemed to be going in different directions and I didn’t understand why. But it wasn’t an unusual phenomenon, since there was a particular uncertainty in many peoples’ minds as to what lay ahead when it was time for thousands of soldiers to come home from the war and experience many changes themselves. There were many relationships that would be changing, as well.