As Pearl Harbor Day was last week, it is fitting to write about a different kind of WWII memoir. Peter Green finished putting together his mother’s story of civilian life during WWII and published it in time for Veteran’s Day. I’ve just started reading it. Feisty Alice Green was raising two young children while her husband, Ben, was out among the Pacific Islands and acting as defacto manager of the Armed Forces Radio Station WXLI based on Guam. Both of Peter’s parents were writers, so Peter had well-written stories and letters to work from. His father’s letters to home are the basis of Peter’s earlier WWII memoir, Ben’s War With the US Marines.
From the cover of Radio: One Woman’s Family in War and Pieces, I can see Alice is probably a fun character, and right away in the book that is confirmed in “A Fish Story.” The memoir starts with her childhood as spunky and somewhat unusual daughter of a stay-home mom and a civil engineer dad who is away most of the time. Her father designed some famous bridges and buildings in the US. The stories continue through starting a family with Ben who goes off to war at age 35, leaving Alice with two little kids and her ingenuity. When he comes home, he has to deal with a wife who has become not just independent, as many women were forced to become during the war, but independent-minded.
The book goes beyond being a memoir of just life during WWII, since it covers Alice’s childhood and goes all the way to Ben’s death in 1976. The final chapter wraps it all up, and the story is book-ended by what amounts to as prologue and epilogue, both touching. This is almost an autobiography. Alice is quite candid throughout, a pleasant surprise as many of this generation can be reticent in expressing true thoughts and feelings.
Radio is not just a story of life on the home front during WWII. It is about the effects of the advancement of technology. It is about women leaving their traditional roles and how society reacts. It is also, interestingly, about the changes in news media, as both Alice and Ben were writers and Ben worked in radio and advertising. Really it is about the changes in the whole cultural fabric of American life. If you have parents or grandparents still living who can tell about these times, be sure to ask them questions about it. That was a whole different world from now.
I am enjoying this book so far from reading and skimming, and I commend Peter on his accomplishments of putting together and publishing both his mother’s and his father’s stories. While his parents left behind a pile of letters and writings, I know how hard it is even to take written pieces of other people’s lives and put them into a cohesive whole, especially when they are no longer around to consult with. Alice never realized her dream of writing her own memoir, but it is done now and she lives on in written pages. It is a delight to meet her.