- Remembering Fairmont during World War II: An Interview with Lysbeth Huster and Joyce Ann Irons
“World War II has warped our view of how we look at things today. We see things in terms of that war.”1 Certainly no other event in the twentieth century has changed American society more than World War II. Millions of young American men who had never traveled far beyond their hometowns found themselves whisked away to foreign continents and oceans, not knowing if or when they would ever return. Meanwhile the tasks of producing goods for the war effort, aiding troop morale, and single-handedly raising families fell on the shoulders of those who were left behind–particularly the women. While they awaited news from loved ones abroad and hoped for their safe and swift return, American women aided the war effort in every way they could, whether by employment in the workforce, through the USO, or merely by donating household goods and scraps for war production. The following oral history was conducted by Kashka Nelson, an undergraduate student at West Virginia University, as a research project for the West Virginia History course that I taught in the spring of 2006. The research project, in conjunction with the West Virginia Veterans’ Project,2 intended to capture the experience not only of veterans, but of any West Virginians who have been directly affected by any American military conflict. In this case, Lysbeth Huster and Joyce Ann Irons, two natives of Fairmont, West Virginia, recall their experiences on the home front during World War II. Based on their recollections of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, rationing, civilian defense, and the psychological impact of the conflict, we find that, even in a small Appalachian town, the war dominated every facet of daily life.
Kashka Nelson: How old were you when the war started?
Lysbeth Huster: Well, then I was twenty-one.
Joyce Irons: Oh, I would have only been about four years old in 1941 when the war started. [End Page 83]
Kashka: Where were you both living when the war started?
Joyce: Umm, at that time on the east side of Fairmont. We lived there the first nine years of my life in town. Then we moved out into the county on the East Grafton Road and I lived out here and in this area until I got married.
Kashka: Do you remember hearing about Pearl Harbor when the attack happened?
Lysbeth: Oh yes. I was bowling that day and they had the radio on and it was announced on the radio and I couldn’t bowl worth a darn after that. I mean, I knew my husband would have to go. He was the right age and we didn’t have any children then.
Joyce: How did you hear about it? The radio?
Lysbeth: The radio at the bowling alley. It was devastating. It was in the middle of the afternoon when we heard it. We always bowled on Sunday. It was the middle of the afternoon.
Joyce: Course, in those days everybody gathered at the radio.
Joyce: But a side note my husband talks about–he lived over here [Colfax, WV] by the school and he was seven and he was on his way down to visit his aunt and a neighbor called out to another neighbor screaming, “They bombed Pearl Harbor!” Scared my husband to death. He thought maybe that was over the hill or over in town. He was seven. He went running down to his aunt’s and he said, “They’ve bombed Pearl Harbor!” And he was terrified and he said, “Where’s Pearl Harbor?” He had no idea.
Kashka: You were married at the time?
Kashka: How old was your husband?
Lysbeth: He was twenty-two.
Kashka: And he wasn’t in the service?
Lysbeth: Not yet, but he went later.
Kashka: Where did he get shipped to?
Lysbeth: He spent most of his duties in California. The ship he was scheduled to go overseas on was a big aircraft carrier, but for the first time in his life he came down with a fever and he stayed...