Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I’m sure many bloggers will write about this wonderful holiday this week. There’s a lot to say—traditions, parades, eating way too much food, football, walking the dog, missing loved ones who aren’t at the table, and gratitude for every blessing. All of that is important and worthy of discussion and description. I’ve decided to skip all that this year because, as luck would have it, one of the Algona newspapers I used in my research for my novel, My Mother’s Friend, had a Thanksgiving Day edition on Thursday, November 23, 1944. So, instead of telling you about my personal memories of Thanksgiving, I’m going to share some of what the good people of Algona saw or read in the Kossuth County Advance (KCA) on the third Thanksgiving of World War II.
The KCA editor (or publisher) printed this announcement on page one above the fold. I suspect most of his readers didn’t mind waiting a week for local news that had to be omitted from this issue. And I’m sure the members of his staff were grateful for his big-heartedness. Ya gotta love small town newspapers—and the people who publish them.
But what really caught my eye on page one was this headline:
Part of Camp Algona’s mission during its tenure, besides holding thousands of German prisoners of war behind barbed wire, was keeping those prisoners occupied during their confinement. Providing educational opportunities for these men helped lessen potential boredom and gave them useful skills and knowledge they could take with them back to their homeland at the end of the war. It may seem like a luxury they didn’t deserve, but American POWs were also offered opportunities to study and learn. One Algona man wrote to his wife from a prison camp in Germany that he was taking courses in journalism, advertising, psychology, and philosophy. Another American POW from Algona wrote home to say he was taking classes in Spanish and drawing. As of November 23, 1944, there were eleven men from Kossuth County in POW camps, nine in Germany and two in the Philippines.
All the classes offered at Camp Algona were conducted with the cooperation of the War Prisoners Aid of the Y.M.C.A. and through the extension service of the University of Minnesota. Courses offered included forestry, agriculture, calculus, and theology. (In Germany, pastors and theological students were not exempt from military service as they were in the U.S. during WWII.) Technical instruction in trades—electrical engineering, metalworking, and carpentry—were also offered. Classes in French, Latin, architecture, music, drama, literature, oil painting, and shorthand were available. By far, the most popular class was English language, with six sections of beginning English and two sections of advanced English offered in the fall of 1944.
All classes met from 7:00 to 9:00 each evening (probably Monday through Friday—the article didn’t say) and teaching in all subjects was done by specially qualified prisoners who were experienced teachers or instructors. There was a library at the camp for reference study, but prisoners could also order books at their own expense. A majority of prisoners were engaged in at least one class at the camp that fall.
The Y.M.C.A. War Prisoners Aid Field Secretary, Dr. Howard Hong, visited Camp Algona several times over the life of the camp, and it was standard operating procedure to submit a written report after each visit. Dr. Hong provided the following information in November 1944:
[Document from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland]
In April 1945, Gunnar A. Norgaard, Camp Algona’s Assistant Executive Officer, submitted this document as part of his “POW Educational and Religious Report.”
[Document from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland]
There were two movie theaters in Algona in the 1940s: the Iowa and the New Call. One of the movies playing at the New Call during Thanksgiving week was None but the Lonely Heart starring Cary Grant and Ethel Barrymore. Grant was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Ernie Mott, and Barrymore won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year for her portrayal of Ma Mott. Also playing in Algona that week: Dragon Seed with Katharine Hepburn and Walter Huston, and Meet Miss Bobby Socks with Bob Crosby and Lynn Merrick. Movie-goers were encouraged to buy war bonds at the theater. One theater ad declared, “issued while you wait!”
Cary Grant died from a massive stroke in Davenport, Iowa on November 29, 1986. He was 82 and still exceptionally handsome (in my view).
Remember TV Guide? I suspect many of you subscribed to that little magazine back in the day—maybe some still do—so you’d always know what was showing on every channel, whether you had cable or not. In Algona in 1944, folks listened to the radio for entertainment and news and weather reports, and radio stations published their programming list every week in local newspapers. My favorite programs from this WHO list above? "String Quartet” at 8:30 on Sunday morning; “Univ. of Iowa football” at 1:45 on Saturday afternoon (Go Hawks!); and “Iowa Barn Dance Frolic” at 8:30 on Saturday night. (I learned to square dance during gym class in junior high. Did you?) And don’t forget: “all listings subject to change.”
WHO, a Des Moines radio station, was (and still is) 1040 on the AM dial. Its first air date was April 10, 1924.
In my novel, the Swenssons (Phee and her dad and younger brothers and sister) enjoy their 1944 Thanksgiving dinner at the Rasmussens—Jack and Peggy and their daughter Christa who is Phee’s best friend. Christa’s brother Danny is serving in the army overseas as is Phee’s older brother Jamie. Almost every night when she gets in bed, Phee writes to “Daisy,” her diary. I include a dozen of these diary entries in my book. Here’s the one from 11-23-1944:
I checked all the grocery ads in all the November 1944 Algona newspapers and didn’t see one mention of turkeys. It’s likely those birds were hard to come by again that year due to the military’s demand for turkeys for the troops. I suspect Jack Rasmussen had a contact at a turkey farm in Nebraska and was able to buy the bird for their big meal from them. Yeh, that’s how it worked, I’m sure of it.
Thanksgiving blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.