In Another Time > Christmas 1941 was one to remember

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 The Christmas spirit was building in the Wildwoods as the calendar turned in 1941 from November to December. They were singing Christmas carols and decorating their homes and businesses in wreaths and holly, and the merchants, in a not-unfamiliar slogan of the future, were urging the people of the county to “Do Your Christmas Shopping in Wildwood.”

Then on the seventh day of that month, the mood changed from joy and merriment to fear and tragedy and uncertainty as the news surfaced that in a faraway awiaanHawaiian harbor named Pearl many Japanese air warriors had dropped their devastation on the ships of the American Navy and the military assigned there. It was to mark the entrance of the United States into the biggest war in the history of mankind and in the hysteria of the time there were fears on the Wildwoods home front that its shores might be invaded. The concern came as German submarines prowled the ocean waters and sent their torpedoes against shipping, not far from the beaches which people had enjoyed in happier, more peaceful times.

The grim reality of the war came home with the announcement of the list of American military who were caught in the surprise attack that not only included the naval base, but other areas of the Pacific. One was Wildwood’s John J. Fulginiti, who was captured at Fort McKinley in Manila and taken to Japan as a prisoner of war. There in Tokyo he was forced to work the docks for the length of the war and was repatriated after the Japanese surrendered

Once the news of the war settled down, the people of the Wildwoods tried to cope with it while preparing for Christmas. It was to be a holiday that was later to be called “the most remarkable Christmas of the century” and “a holiday season few would ever forget.”

Wildwood, claimed an editorial in The Leader, “has become the natural shopping center in this part of the state” and it added there were indications that the 1941 season would be one of the best in its history. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce and the city’s PR department offered prizes for the best decorated houses.

“Visitors will be delighted with a tour of the city to view the displays,” said the editorial.

For three weeks as the war kept sending grim news of early military failures in the faraway places of the Pacific, Wildwood tried to ease the pain on what was to become known as the home front during World War II. Its stores were kept open at night to accommodate not only the locals but also to woo those from out of town.

“Every effort will be made to prove to the public that Wildwood offers excellent facilities that compare favorably with many of the advantages of a large metropolis without the disadvantages of jostling crowds, long lines and a tiresome journey,” the editorial promised.

Children, meanwhile, presented Christmas carols and other appropriate songs. One of the concerts, called “The Light of the World,” came from students of the Progressive School of Music and included an orchestra and a choral group, the latter directed by Phillip Gould, father of attorney Alan Gould. Churches offered special services and masses to pray for the purpose of the holiday and for a quick resolution of the war.

As Wildwood coped, so did the rest of the nation. Winston Churchill visited the White House unexpectedly on Christmas Eve and he and President Roosevelt delivered a joint radio address to America and the rest of the world. About the same time Adolf Hitler and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels spoke out in Germany.

On Christmas Day of that year, crooner turned movie star Bing Crosby sang for the first time publicly Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” on Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall radio program. He was to say later that he did not think much of the song at that time. It, of course, has since become the unofficial non-religious national anthem of the holiday.

The Wildwoods, in the meantime, were taking steps to protect their shores. A local defense council was formed in a united effort among the three major municipalities. War-time Wildwood Mayor George Krogman, who was to serve from 1938 to 1944, announced plans for a system of air raid drills. Dr. H.H. Hornstine was placed in charge of the medical and first aid division and was authorized to purchase $100 worth of first aid equipment. Police Captain Lynn Forcum was ordered to obtain first aid equipment for each police car and 14 additional amplifiers were purchased to send out messages loud and clear in case the Germans were coming.

If the island were attacked, it would be up to the council members and their committees “to do the best they could under what instructions they had already received,” the mayor said. But, according to an article in the Leader, “It was generally agreed that the island had little military value except perhaps as a possible landing site by the enemy.”

Another island mayor, George A. Redding of North Wildwood who was to serve in that capacity from 1926 to 1949, also was busy during that worrisome season. He appointed and swore in to office 150 auxiliary policemen and firemen to help avoid any confusion during the sounding of air raid alarms.

“I hope the time will never come that you men will be called into action for air raids but precautions must be taken and we will not be caught napping,” the mayor said.

He predicted that 1,000 men would be available for emergencies on Five Mile Beach and a school on Central Avenue would be converted into a hospital if needed.

Women also were beginning to do their part in the war effort. Mrs. Howard B. Mecleary (women were not usually given their own full names in print in those days, except for Eleanor Roosevelt) was named in charge of the Red Cross volunteer work in the county. She was described in an interview in the Leader as being “brilliant” and “an attractive woman who is busier than the Japs running for shelter."

The start of the war just about ended the big depression that haunted the nation during the 1930s. There were still hungry people, however, such as the Ocean City man who was arrested for breaking into a dining room and stealing silverware which he sold to a junk dealer for $50. He said he did it because he was hungry.

“Well,” replied the judge as he prepared to impose sentence, “I’ll arrange it so you will have something to eat for 364 days.”

(Some of the information in this article was researched at the reference department of the Cape May County Library in Court House.)


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