Nanticoke Remembers the Veterans of WWII
The City of Nanticoke began playing its part in the tragedy of WWII long before the attack on Pearl Harbor and Americans thought they were safely insulated from the fighting that was ravaging the European Continent.
Refugees had been streaming to the Americas for several years. In Nanticoke in 1940, the Lewis family of the Lape Apartments received a message from a sister of Mr. Lewis living in a suburb of London, England, that two of her children were being sent here for the duration of the war. The letter did not state definitely what day the refugees were to sail but the parents of the children informed Mr. and Mrs. Lewis that an air mail letter would be sent as soon as a sailing date was known. This section of the state was full of rumors concerning the arrival of refugee children from Europe and particularly from Britain. Berwick was most prominently mentioned as the first community to receive them.
In January of that year, the Federal Government leased from the Nanticoke School District a plot of ground on E. Washington Street that once contained an old sewing mill. A new building was erected and used as a work production shop.
The trolley rails of the old and abandoned People’s Street Railway Company were dug up on Prospect and Market Streets and sold as scrap, and Mayor Stanley Ostroski issued a proclamation designating “National Defense Day” calling upon citizens of the city to display the US flag and other suitable decorations of a patriotic nature on their homes and business places.
Numerous war related organizations sprang up in the city, such as the Nanticoke Unit of the British War Relief Society which raised money by holding dances in venues like the Knights of Columbus hall.
Following orders from the head of the nation’s civilian defense council, Police Chief John Smerski, chief air raid warden, called upon all air raid wardens and their patrolmen to hold themselves in readiness. Businessmen were asked to make arrangements to have lights extinguished as soon as the siren sounded.
The war was vividly brought home when two of Newport Township’s citizens were lost at Pearl Harbor, Keith Jefferies, a 1936 graduate of Wanamie Central High School, and Edward Slapikas. Jeffries was entombed in the USS Arizona. Slapikas was killed on the USS Oklahoma.
Among the first Nanticoke High School pupils to enlist in the US military were John Makarczyk, Steve Methven and Clete Kresge, Frank Lewski, and Chester Zaucha.
By 1942, more than a mile of trolley rails in Nanticoke were removed and sent to Bethlehem Steel Corporation to be used for national defense.
Nanticoke inductees leaving for WWII; this may have early or late 1942, indicated by the snow on the ground. (Photo courtesy of Frieda [Manos] Agrapides)
In a talk at Swaney’s Restaurant, Mayor John Paulus made a strong plea to the Nanticoke Businessmen’s Association for cooperation and assistance in the formation and development of a local service club. The purpose of the club was to promote suitable programs for selectees and to provide gifts for them and to men already in service.
Rationing books, all 590,000 of them, were received in Luzerne County. Their first use was for the distribution of sugar. There were severe penalties for infractions of the rationing regulations, including 10 years imprisonment, or a $10,000 fine, or both. The books were not transferable and were to be used only by or on behalf of the person to whom they were issued. A Pledge for Victory Campaign took place in Nanticoke, West Nanticoke, Newport Township and surrounding areas. School teachers and several organizations canvassed all homes. Every man and woman was asked to pledge a part of their income to buy war bonds and war stamps.
School Director James A. Thompson was voted a leave of absence “for the duration of the war” by his collogues on the school board. This was the first action of its kind taken by a school district of Wyoming Valley regarding officials who left for armed service.
Registration for gas rationing was held in all the elementary schools. Teachers were the registrars. Registers were asked to bring their auto owners cards.
Newport Township Fire Department responded to a “mock fire” during a blackout test at St. Stanislaus Orphanage. The event was coordinated with the Community Welfare Federation as a part of the war effort.
Crowds estimated at more than 40,000 witnessed a parade by the Armed Services Club of Nanticoke, which included soldiers, tanks and floats.
Old fire trucks are paraded through the streets of Nanticoke during WWII
In an agreement with War Materials, Inc., City Council sold them all the street railway rails, track fastenings and other metallic track material laid in the streets of Nanticoke consisting of 135 gross tons, more or less, for a consideration of $1 and other good and valuable considerations paid by War Materials, Inc.
These rails of the WB Traction Company survived the war and were in use when the last trolley car rolled into Nanticoke in 1950.
The tracks seen in this early photo of W. Church Street were part of the People’s Street Railway system which had been abandoned before the start of the war. They were dug up and used for scrap for the war effort.
Crowds of people at the dedication of the 8th Ward War Memorial