While men were at war with Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, virtually every women’s group in Carlisle had representatives at an April 12, 1943 rally to push for unity in the face of war.
“Your Molly Pitcher, who did so much in another great national crisis, should be our greatest incentive in this one,” said Mrs. Loewen, vice-chairman of the women’s division of the State War Savings Committee. She was speaking to a capacity crowd of mostly women at an April 12 War Bond rally in the courthouse on the Square.
By that time, a turning point had been reached in the fight against the Axis powers, but war’s end was still more than two years away. The government had just announced the launch of a campaign to raise $13 billion in war bonds with the Cumberland County goal of $3.5 million.
The April 12 rally included members of the VFW and American Legion auxiliaries, as well as the high school girls’ chorus which sang several patriotic songs including “Jolly Molly Pitcher,” which was adopted by the women’s War Savings division as its campaign theme song.
An all-female cast of Dickinson College students presented the play “Only 10 Per Cent,” which told the story of a wealthy self-centered American matron disgruntled by the small inconveniences of the war.
“It contrasted her fortunate situation with the tragic plight of a French refugee whose husband and children had been slain by the Nazis,” The Sentinel’s April 13 story reads. “The two women met in a physician’s office and the refugee told her story of personal hardships after the other woman had complained that the government was asking her husband for 10 per cent of his income for War Bond investment.”
The guest speaker at the April 12 rally was Marine Pvt. James Gorman, a Philadelphia native who was wounded in action during the Guadalcanal campaign. He mentioned that when he returned stateside, he discovered that civilians were more concerned about finding ways to circumvent war rationing than following news from the war fronts.
“Even with rationing, you still get three meals a day and you have a roof over your head,” Gorman told his audience. “You don’t have to worry every minute of the day about being shot.”
Marines on Guadalcanal were subjected to enemy sea bombardment by night and Japanese snipers in the trees by day. That went on for weeks on end. Food got so scarce the Marines had to live on what the enemy had left behind. The water situation was even worse.
Six events, five hours
The First Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal on Friday, August 7, 1942. That Thursday, Carlisle played host to a string of six war bond events held over the course of five hours.
The frantic schedule was meant to maximize the impact of two guest speakers. One was Lt. Bartholomeo Passanante, an Army Air Corps pilot who lost his left leg during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. The other was Enya Gonzalez, a Filipino opera singer and niece of President Manuel Quezon.
The pair arrived in Carlisle from Lancaster around 11:30 a.m. where they were met at the Molly Pitcher Hotel by members of the local war bond committee. Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at an outdoor rally held at the Bedford Shoe Company plant. There they spoke to factory workers from Bedford, the Carlisle Paper Box company, Carlisle Tire and Wheel and the Hollinger mill.
From Bedford, the entourage hurried to the Square and the largest of the six events held in front of the Old Courthouse. But Lt. Passanante and Miss Gonzalez were not the only stars of the show.
Event organizers had put on display four aerial bombs as a gimmick to sell war bonds and stamps. For the price of 50 cents in stamps, local residents could sign their names to high explosives “specially made for delivery” to the Germans, Italians or Japanese. If they purchased a war bond, they could write a message of utter contempt for the Axis leaders.
Those interested in signing their names or writing a message had to show up at the courthouse starting at 12:15 p.m. The Sentinel focused its coverage on the event on the Square, which drew a crowd of about 1,500 local residents.
The first eight months of the war was an emotional roller coaster for civilians. Most of the news was bad with word of Imperial Japanese forces sweeping through the Pacific Rim in a wave of conquest.
The only real bright spots were the Doolittle Raid on Japan on April 18 and the U.S. sinking of four enemy carriers during the Battle of Midway in early June. On April 9, 1942, U.S. and Filipino forces surrendered on the Bataan peninsula. This was followed on May 6 by the Fall of Corregidor.
Plight of the Philippines
Lt. Passanante was assigned to the Third Pursuit Squadron at Iba Field on the island of Luzon. A Japanese sneak attack destroyed his unit on the ground and he was the sole survivor of a squadron of 35 men. Shrapnel wounds required the amputation of his leg, and Passanante had to endure another 23 days of near constant bombing before he was finally evacuated to safety.
“It’s a terrible feeling to be down, helpless, but it is worse to realize you can’t answer back because you lack equipment and food for strength,” Passanante told the crowd. “The boys are not fighting for themselves but for you – to keep you free and happy.
“It’s not enough to say you have a brother, or a father, cousins or a sweetheart in the service,” he added. “You must do your share and do it yourself ... Back them up.”
As for Gonzalez, she had heard nothing from her mother, her two brothers and two sisters since the Japanese had invaded the Philippines in December 1941. “I’m afraid I will never again hear from my family,” Gonzalez said. She sang two songs – “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“Under this inspiration, the audience dug into its pockets on the spot and bought nearly $2,000 in war stamps and bonds,” The Sentinel reported. Hundreds of local residents signed their names and wrote messages on the bombs.
Following the rally at the courthouse, the entourage was the guests of the local Rotary Club at a luncheon and participated in speaking events at Carlisle Shoe Company, Masland mills and Carlisle Barracks. It was then off to York County where they attended events that evening.