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The War Comes to Plum Street

Bruce C. Smith

Publication Year: 2005

"This remains a superb story. Bruce C. Smith has a wonderful eye for detail and a compelling perspective and voice. We care about this place and the people who live here." -- James H. Madison, author of Wendell Willkie: Hoosier Internationalist and A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America

The War Comes to Plum Street brings to life the Second World War through the eyes of a small group of neighbors from a Midwestern town. Bruce C. Smith presents their stories just as they happened, without explanation or interpretation. To experience the war as they did, insofar as it is possible, we must understand how they perceived everyday events and recognize the incompleteness of their knowledge of what was taking place in Europe and the Pacific. The inhabitants of Plum Street in New Castle, Indiana, resemble many other average Americans of their day. As we discover how they experienced those fateful years, these Americans may have something to teach us about how we live in our own turbulent time.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

This is a different kind of book about World War II. Most of the many volumes on the epochal conflict are retrospective, examining events and people with hindsight unavailable to the participants at the time. They utilize books and traditional documentary materials such as military unit reports, letters, diaries, and other...

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1. Migration and a New Start in the 1920s

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pp. 1-19

This is a story of how ordinary people create the mosaic of American life in a part of the country far removed from teeming cities and the seats of power. On the farms and in the small villages and middling towns of the vast heartland, generations live out the ebb and flow of their lives in localized obscurity. Theirs is the real...

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2. Coping with Hard Times in the 1930s

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pp. 20-46

By the 1930's, nearly every male member of the Smith family worked for Chrysler: Fred went to work there while it was still Maxwell, and stayed on during the transition to Chrysler. Brothers Walter and Tom, nephews, and cousins all worked there at one time or another...

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3. The Slow Pull Upward, Late 1930s

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pp. 47-72

After the Wrights and Moleses and others on the street had descended so near to ruin in the early 1930s, what followed seemed like recovery. It was not, of course, and they all continued to struggle in the effort to pull themselves up a little further each year...

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4. Into the Storm, 1939–1941

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pp. 73-89

Gemma continued to work hard to keep her grades high during senior year. With the yearbook, work for Mrs. Edwards, and chores at home, she had time for little else. On Saturday nights she went out with Martha or Sarah or double-dated. Martha...

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5. Duty Calls Every Citizen, 1942

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pp. 90-109

The year 1942 dawned with very little hope for most people in middle America. There was no certainty that the United States would win the war, and very little in the papers to suggest that we could expect much good news anytime soon. The Japanese were...

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6. Bearer of Bad News, 1942

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pp. 110-133

Orrin still worked for Western Union and still pined for Sarah, but she tried to give him no encouragement. Orrin brought good news and bad to Western Union’s customers. There were the usual birth announcement telegrams and news that relatives would be coming to visit, but there was bad news, too. That was...

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7. Urgent Preparation, 1943

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pp. 134-164

After months of training at Fort Bliss, the 448th AA left for advanced gunnery training in the Mojave Desert in California, but four sergeants from the battalion stayed behind on temporary duty. Ed was one of them. When this happened, the four of them...

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8. Together, and Alone, 1943

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pp. 165-193

Ed wrote home to his mother and father from Camp Davis that he would appreciate it if they could help with the wedding plans. After all, he could not get away until OCS was over, and the meningitis quarantine had set back even these plans. But he was...

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9. Despair and Bitter Hope, 1944

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pp. 194-213

The holiday surprise Ed and Gemma brought to their families and friends did not last long. Jess, Ethel, Marie, and Wanda were just as surprised to see them on Christmas Day as Fred and Lillian had been on Christmas Eve. It was a joyous but restrained...

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10. Invasion, 1944

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pp. 214-246

The weekend after commencement for the Class of ’44 was quiet, and Monday was the same. The Allies took Rome that Sunday and Monday when German forces decided to evacuate and fight farther to the north. Gemma had a small radio on the...

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11. Will It Never End? 1945

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pp. 247-271

...of war had passed since Pearl Harbor, and there was still no end in sight. The Allies were closing in on Germany, but as the December fighting along the bulge in the western front had shown, the Germans still had plenty of fight left in them and...

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12. We’ll Meet Again, 1945

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pp. 272-291

As May began, the headlines in the hometown paper got larger and longer. President Truman announced on the 2nd that all the German forces in Italy and southern Austria, totaling nearly a million men, had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. Hostilities came to a conclusion in these areas, ending the bloodbath...

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pp. 292-300

Now life could resume in the new year of 1946, and the best part of it was that there was no big hurry to find a job or do anything in particular. Gemma had carefully saved Ed’s generous army pay, giving them an enviable nest egg of over $2,000. Ed chose...

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pp. 301-302

The War Comes to Plum Street grew out of the recollections of people who livedin New Castle, Indiana, in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Oral history interviews conducted between 1990 and 1994 provided the substance of the livesaround which the story was built. Those interviewed included Edward M. Smith, Gemma Moles Smith, Sarah Wright Madison, Vernie Griffin (inter-...


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pp. 303-308

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111418
E-ISBN-10: 0253111412
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253345349

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 21 b&w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2005