As she looked though her collection of photos from the past, one in particular stuck out to Montz native Coleen Perilloux Landry.
It was a 1941 class photo of Norco Elementary School students, a picture given to her about 60 years ago by a friend and former classmate. Landry shared the photo on a Norco Facebook page for others in the community to enjoy, and she was happy to hear from a number of community residents who were appreciative – “Some told me they had never seen a photo of their mother or father as a child, so I was thrilled that they could have that picture now,” Landry said.
The photo also inspired the Montz native to recall life during those days: primarily, how much life was about to change for each and every child in that photo, as well as Landry herself. The United States entered into World War II in December of 1941 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, ushering in a new reality for the country’s citizens in the process.
“These were the little children, who in December 1941, were thrown into World War II, having their childhoods forever changed,” wrote Landry as she described the photo for the Norco Facebook group. “There were food shortages, gasoline shortages, clothing and shoes shortages and one had to have ration stamps to buy anything. Almost everyone had someone in the family who went into the military service. By the middle of 1945 they had learned too much responsibility for children so young, and they all grew up to be members of the Greatest Generation.”
Landry’s ability to vividly describe that time is one reason the National World War II Museum features a in depth interview with her about growing up as a child during World War II on its website and will feature the interview as part of the new section of the museum that will be dedicated in November.
“I was in first grade when World War II was declared,” Landry recalled to the Herald-Guide. “I had three brothers who were in the service, and we only had radio and the mail to keep us informed. You’d wait every day (for the mail). I can’t imagine what my mother and father went through.”
Sometimes, it could be very traumatic. Landry recalled one day that a Marine arrived at her family’s home and spoke with her mother and father outside their door. He informed them that their son and Landry’s brother, Reed, was missing in action.
“He was overseas in the Pacific where the war was terrible,” Landry said. “When (the Marine) arrived, the sun was shining. He talked to my parents outside by the box steps in front of our home … my parents didn’t get off that box step until after dark. They were in such shock.”
A month passed before the family learned that Reed was alive and had been found.
“We just celebrated his 100th birthday – he’s still going strong as a Marine,” Landry said.
But fears were not limited only to what might happen to family members who were serving active duty. There were very real fears of what could happen on U.S. homeland in the event of an attack – fears of an attack on one’s very community.
“I lived the entire war thinking the Japanese or the Germans were going to come down the Mississippi River, come over the levee and kill us,” Landry recalled. “In school, our teachers took very good care of us. They taught us how to get under our desks or get to safety in the middle of a building (in the event of a bomb attack). I don’t know how they were able to do it without scaring us.
“We learned many things little children should never have to learn … it was just the life we had.”
The abundance of today was also not close to the reality Landry grew up with. Food, gasoline and clothing were rationed, with so much supply sent to assist in war efforts. One could not just buy what he or she wanted – each family was allowed so many ration stamps to trade for goods.
“Throughout my life, I bought clothes I would be able to wear for a long time, because of what I learned then,” Landry said.
The rationing of gasoline could complicate things. Landry recalled a day where she accompanied her sister, who was going to have a necessary dental procedure done. Their car ran out of gas over the Spillway.
“There were no cars on the road because people had no gas – it took nearly an hour before someone arrived to help us get home,” Landry said.
Families adapted. Landry’s family bought a cow in order to have milk. Her mother and father each tended to vegetable gardens to grow food and would collect fruit from trees to feed the family.
“We ate well that way – it was the only way you could do it, at the time,” Landry said.
She did her part for the war effort when she joined a salvage club created for children who were not old enough to serve. They collected scrap metal, bacon fat, and anything else that could help with the war effort. They also held a play as a fundraiser on a stage in the schoolhouse. It’s just what people did at the time, she explained, during a very patriotic time.
While Landry speaks honestly about the hardships people endured, there is also pride in her voice – tough times created good people, she believes.
“I think all of it made us better people,” she said. “We were taught respect – we certainly had respect for life, and respect for other people. And we still do, for those of us who are still here.”