Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Voices from the Past: Word War II and the Homefront

January 1943 was a bleak time for America, and for the free world. Just the previous month gasoline rationing began across the country, a shock to a nation accustomed to freedom of travel. Horrific fighting in the Pacific on Guadalcanal and New Guinea raises the death toll of American fighting dead every day; Stalin rages over the lack of a Western front even as the meat grinder known as the Battle of Stalingrad enters into its final stages. Although Allied forces are on the move in North Africa and massive air raids on Germany are just beginning, the realization that the war is going to be long, bitter and bloody as hell is just starting to sink in. America is in this for the long haul, and the sacrifices of a total war effort are being felt by Americans of all classes.

On 16 January 1943 in a Billings, Montana office, the editor of the The Billings Gazette sits in his office to pen the next day’s editorial. He looks wistfully out the window at the blowing snow and thinks longingly of warmer days. An angler, as are most of his Montana friends, a blurb on the press wire attracts his attention. He sits down and pens the following editorial, which runs the next day. It sums up the feelings of wartime America as well as anything I’ve run across.

A fishing tackle manufacturer, who reports his plant tied up 100 per cent producing "headaches" for the Axis instead of rods, reels, lines and lures, has issued a bulletin to fishermen advising them to spend some of these winter evenings conditioning their outfit for next year. Rod ferrules may need resetting, reel bearings may be in want of repairs, fly lines dressed and lures put into usable shape.

In ordinary times many an angler found wintertime diversion in going through the old tackle box. What days come to mind as one sorts over each cherished piece of equipment. The old reel is much more than a spool; the line, the rod, the creel, they, too, are not to be dismissed as so much cord, cane and twisted willow as the uninitiated are wont to appraise them. Each breathes something that makes a fisherman a little sentimental.

Quite unknowingly time passes as one picks up the little feathered insect imitations in the fly box. Here's a ginger quill, a McGlnty—or is it a western bee? There's the early-season squirrel tail that was retrieved from an underwater snag last May when the streams were running high. What experiences are unfolded by each of them, modest little creations of man. They tell again the stories of rainbows and natives lost and caught while our imagination readily conjures the locale and background—a riffle above a pool, its depth obscured with the shimmering reflection of firs along the bank, and In the distance rugged peaks with here and there a glacier or patch of snow in a hanging valley.

This year such flights of fancy stop abruptly. How urgent Is the duty of getting the old rod, reel, line and other equipment into shape? Will we go back to the same places next summer? And how? Will there be angler car clubs? (But there's that sticker on the windshield asking If "this trip Is really necessary.") We've heard some ardent devotees recall the old fishing trains that used to run up Red Lodge way, letting them off near their favorite spots in the morning and picking them up in the early evening. Wonder if we will—or can—come to that again.

My point in republishing this little piece is to remind us that when we are caught up in the storm we sometimes think it will never end. But hard times--like January 1943--eventually pass, the sun comes up again on a new and better day, and the fishing tackle always remains where we last put it, silently awaiting better days.

-- Dr. Todd

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