Wednesday, August 9, 2017


                       PEORIA:  A TEEN LOOKS AT WW 11

                                                  NORMAN V. KELLY


Way back in 1945 I was thirteen and the City of Peoria, Illinois was one hundred years old. I’m not going to pretend that we kids were big thinkers, or walked around with the weight of the war on our shoulders…but we were scared. First the terrifying attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and then the disappearance of our young Peoria men, including my three brothers. Just over 23,000 Peorians went off to the war, 626 of them never came back alive.


As a kid all we really knew about the war we heard from our parents, especially our dads.  I remember my mom gathering us around the kitchen table as she read my brothers’ letters. At first folks with sons in the war proudly hung up Service Flags in the windows with blue stars on them, sadly some of the blue stars turned to gold. I think the scariest years were 1942 and early 1943 when the war news was nothing short of grim.  To me it was the war films that changed our fear into pride and by the time 1945 came around, most of us were more than ready to join up ourselves. Every cent we could scrape together was spent at the theaters in Downtown Peoria.  Today, I suppose the films would be called propaganda movies, but what did we care?  We had John Wayne and the Army and the Navy, and our favorites, the Marines.  Now how could we lose the war?  We fought our own wars down in the woods near El Vista, playing commandoes and arguing over who was going to be the officer in charge. Since my brother sent his lieutenant bars to me you know who was in charge…me.


The excitement of seeing that huge picture in the local newspapers of our flag being raised on Iwo Jima in March of ‘45 was probably the most inspiring moment of the war.  We ran around asking for copies of that newspaper, but no one wanted to part with it.  I imagine every Peoria household cut that picture out and framed it.


After that victory I don’t remember seeing a fearful face among the folks that I saw daily.  Funny, but I do not have a personal memory of May 8, 1945, which was V-E Day.  It had to be amazing but I can tell you an awful lot about V-J Day, August 14, 1945. Most of our population was downtown and the excitement was overwhelming. I kissed my first ‘woman’ that wonderful day and I’ll never forget her. She was sitting on a bench within the courthouse square and at age 13, because of what I had learned from John Wayne, I walked right up and kissed her on the lips. We loved that wartime period and the feeling of pride it gave us just being Americans.


Editor’s note:  Norm is the author of  eight books on the bawdy, wide-open history of  Peoria, Illinois and welcomes your comments.     








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