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Museum gives look at home during war.

Byline: MATT COOPER The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - There was a time when you couldn't open a bottle of milk without finding a message on the lid urging support for the war effort.

If you lit a smoke, you saw a "V" for victory on the matchbook. Check any shelf in the grocery store - from meat to margarine to popcorn - and the entreaty was always the same: Buy U.S. war bonds.

Norman Rockwell painted it, Frank Sinatra sang it: Support the troops; use less, so they'll have enough.

It was the 1940s, and America was at war.

Frank Walker's folks did their part. It's been 60 years, but Walker still has the $25 war bond purchased by his parents, in his name. It was one of the millions sold to Americans that generated nearly $150 billion to help finance the Allies' victory in World War II.

For Walker, the bond evokes memories, and not easy ones. He was just a kid playing soldier in the sandbox when the wounded started coming home, some of them horribly disfigured.They were the "lucky" ones, some might say, because they came home at all. Walker's father was in the Navy.

As he strolled through the Springfield Museum earlier this week, Walker, a 65-year-old retired teacher, stopped before the war bond, one of the items he loaned for display. Then he dried an eye and smiled sheepishly, a bit surprised perhaps, by how quickly old emotions can resurface. "Touching with my past," he said.

People of a certain age have had similar reactions during visits to the museum's latest exhibit, "World War II at Home: 1942 to 1945," a re-creation of a typical American home during the war.

Among the 1927 stove and the 1936 refrigerator and the Zenith floor radio, they're remembering, and their memories are mostly of a nation seemingly gathered as one behind its fighting forces.

During a visit to the exhibit last week, Darlene Kuschel looked up at a large poster, where a G.I. grinned back under a slogan that read, "Do with less - so they'll have enough! Rationing gives you your fair share."

Kuschel was just a 2-year-old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor but she came to appreciate her country's united stand. "I pray if things become grim again, people will be able to rise the way they did at this time," she said.

Nearby, Eldon Olin, an 81-year-old retired logger and local artist, stopped before a display featuring the distinctive white helmet of the Civil Defense. During the war, those who wore such equipment brooked no dissent on matters of home front security.

A priority, Olin recalled, was eliminating nighttime light - it could be a streetlamp or a car's headlights or a dining-room chandelier - that an enemy bomber might use to target an attack.

"If you had lights on, by god, they made you turn them out," he said. "Everything was just black - no lights at all."

Museum board member Jack Gischel proposed the home front exhibit about a year ago, when officials were scrambling to fill space left by a cancellation.

The museum had done a similar display just a few years earlier, Gischel said, but in protective cases. This one tries to put the visitor "into" the exhibit, while keeping them behind the rope, of course.

"Several people who I talked to said, `You know, it feels like I'm in somebody's house,' ' Gischel said. "That's what we were trying to do."

The exhibit takes up one room of the museum, with layouts re-creating the typical 1940s-era bedroom, dining room, kitchen and den, all brimming with period-specific items.

In collecting elements for the exhibit, Gischel and museum coordinator Kathy Jensen relied heavily on their connections, as well as on the city's antique stores and even St. Vincent de Paul, a thrift store that contributed a mattress.

Gischel conducted a tour this week with Walker, former Mayor Sandra Rennie and Bev Medford, another museum board member. All donated items and all remembered the World War II home front as if they were one family, huddled together around the radio, nervously awaiting the latest news.

"There was this feeling of togetherness - the whole nation was thinking one thought: victory," Rennie said. "We didn't have all these factions bringing this up and that up."

Rennie was 9 years old in 1942, old enough to read the papers, and old enough to be frightened by them. In one corner of the exhibit, she pointed to a headline blaring, "4,000 SHIPS LAUNCH INVASION OF FRANCE."

"Those came out in big, bold print every single day," she said. "It was a scary time."

The exhibit also recalls the rationing effort, a necessary frustration to ensure that scarce foods were kept plentiful for the troops. The kitchen table on display, for example, includes a plate with the red and blue tokens - they were called "points" - the government issued to regulate consumption of meat, fat and processed foods.

Nationwide belt-tightening also extended to the home front fabric supply. One of Medford's contributions is an old flour sack; during the war, the sacks came in patterns, perfect for an industrious mother to remake as a little girl's dress.

"We used to fight over who got the prettiest pattern," she said, chuckling.

For sheer volume of exhibit items, however, no one comes close to Walker, whose own collection numbers in the thousands.

Frank Walker Sr. survived the war. But among the jewelry, postcards, lighters, flags and books that the son has contributed for the exhibit, there is a cousin's poem, written in memory of a father she was too young to know when he was killed on Okinawa.

"I was only two," one line read, "and can't even remember your face."

"There are so many people who lived all their lives and have no idea who their fathers were," Walker said. "That's one reason I collect this - so the memories will survive."

SPRINGFIELD MUSEUM

What: "World War II At Home: 1942 to 1945," a re-creation of the typical home during the war effort, continues through Jan. 18.

When and where: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, at 550 Main St. Admission costs $2 for age 18 and older.

For more information: Call 726-2300

- Springfield Museum

CAPTION(S):

Mary Lou Bickford tidies up at the Springfield Museum exhibit "World War II at Home: 1942-1945," of a typical Lane County home. Mary Lou Bickford runs a carpet sweeper at the Springfield Museum exhibit, "World War II at Home: 1942-1945 composed of vignettes representing life in a typical Lane County home during the war years. Photo by Wayne Eastburn
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Title Annotation:Springfield: The exhibit shows how a typical Lane County house appeared in the 1940s.; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 29, 2002
Words:1117
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