by Bob Linnenberg ’63
2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, which began in Europe in September 1939. The United States became fully involved with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Life was about to change for all Withrow students.
Because of Cincinnati’s prominence in the production of machine tools vital to the war effort and Withrow’s proximity to two major plants, air raid drills were implemented in January 1942. Tower News printed instructions on air raid protocols, but the first few practice drills generated humorous accounts of gym students being caught in the showers and having to dress while running to their assigned shelters.
School-wide scrap metal drives were held to collect material to be melted down and turned into ammunition. Paper and rubber drives were also held to provide valuable resources for defense. In 1943, 12 tons of scrap metal and rubber were collected by Withrow Junior High students alone. They also collected 40 tons of newspapers, magazines and boxes for the war effort. Home Room representatives sold U.S. Government War Stamps and War Bonds to help finance the nation’s defense. War Stamps were 10 cents apiece, and when enough stamps were collected, they could be redeemed for a War Bond. In the first two months of the 1942-43 school year, Withrow students bought $15,000 (228,080 in 2020 dollars) worth of War Bonds. By the end of the war in 1945, 85 million Americans had bought War Bonds and put forth $185.7 billion toward the war effort.
A Victory Corps program was established at Withrow. The Corps provided training and education to male and female high school students to prepare them for military service and participation in the war effort. They also helped support our soldiers abroad with mail and needed supplies. Machine shop classes in the Industrial Arts building were stepped up to teach valuable skills needed in defense industries. Classes in aeronautics were begun to teach celestial navigation, a necessary tool for those boys going into the Air Corps. Physical Education classes for senior boys were stepped up to five days a week to prepare them for induction. Every able-bodied male in the graduating class could expect to serve in the armed forces.
Blood drives were organized by students and faculty. A drive to raise $2,250 (34,213 in 2020 dollars) to buy a Red Cross mobile blood procurement unit that began in May 1943 was so successful that the truck was purchased and turned over to the Red Cross later that year. Girls’ groups made first-aid kits for the Red Cross and knit socks and scarves for the troops.
Many Withrow students left school before graduating to join the armed forces or to work in defense industries. Several male teachers left to join the services or were drafted. Often, servicemen and women reported back to Withrow on their activities in the armed forces. Many of these letters were published in Tower News. Other faculty and students volunteered for war-related activities, such as the Red Cross or the USO, or served as air raid wardens. Since many fruits and vegetables were rationed or in short supply, both students and faculty contributed to the war effort by growing a “Victory Garden”.
With most meat and produce in the country going to feed the armed forces, the Withrow cafeteria often ran out of meat, including chicken and ham, and ran short of potatoes, vegetables, ice cream, and sugar. Cakes could be made only every other day. The rationing of food, gasoline and clothing during the war caused many hardships, but Withrow students still played sports, put on plays and concerts, and performed in the Minstrels.
Tower News continued to publish weekly and, along with school news, reported on Withrowites in the armed forces. Two hundred copies of Tower News were sent out to service personnel all over the United States and to APO and FPO addresses. Tower News also ran casualty lists of former students captured, injured or killed by the enemy. Thousands of Withrow alumni served in some capacity during the war and, unfortunately, 109 Withrowites lost their lives and are identified HERE.
The 1943 annual, The New World is Ours, was dedicated to winning the war. The 1944 annual, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Withrow’s opening, pointed out that the school’s construction in 1917 was delayed by World War I, “the war to end all wars”. The composition of the 1945 annual reflects the shortages in paper and ink due to severe rationing as the war dragged on. The post-war 1946 annual contains a list of all the names, then known, of Withrow alumni killed in the war. Many discharged servicemen, who had left school before graduation, returned to Withrow to finish high school and receive their diplomas in 1946 and the years following.