A few weeks ago, for my World War II class in college, I had to conduct an interview with anyone who either served in the army during the war, or lived through it as a civilian. Normally, I do not share any school projects on my blog, unless they are something important, and being that this is the 70th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and America’s official entrance into WWII, I thought I would share this interview I conducted with my grandma, Julia Shutter, who is now 83 years old, and on my mother’s side of the family. She was just a young girl when American began their involvement in the war, but she was still able to give me a decent amount of information, even though she admitted that she unfortunately could not remember many details.
Had I needed to do this assignment four or five years ago, I could have also spoken to my great-uncle as well (her sister’s husband), Salvatore Piacentino, who served as a tank crewman during WWII. When I was a little kid, he would tell me stories about the war, and several battles he was in, including the famous Battle of the Bulge. I only remember but one line from his story about that battle, which was when he said, “We nearly soiled ourselves when the Germans started shooting at us.” I also remember him saying how the noise inside the tanks was deafening, and they were frightened the entire time. Unfortunately, about four years ago, he developed Alzheimer’s, and passed away within the last year. With his death when volume’s worth of stories, experiences, and knowledge about the war, but I am still grateful to have spoken to my grandma about the subject, and to have spent some time with her.
GC: Please state your name and maiden name for the record.
JS: My name is Julia Shutter, but I was Julia Trumbetta at the time the war began. My future husband Charlie, at the time (who later served in the Navy), would always write his letters to me addressed as “Trumpetti”, because my brother had changed his last name, for whatever reason. My father was very angry at that, and said, “I only have one son and he doesn’t even have my name.”
GC: How old were you when America got involved in World War II?
JS: I was born in 1928, so that would have made me thirteen. I was in the eighth grade and living on Staten Island, New York.
GC: Do you remember where you were when you found out about the attacks on Pearl Harbor?
JS: I believe I was at home playing, and we heard it on the radio. I remember the words, “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor”, being said over and over again. It gave us all a funny feeling, because my brother [also named Salvatore] was in the army, and we knew that meant he would be sent away soon. I was born years after WWI had ended, so this was a new experience for my sisters and me.
GC: Tell me more about your brother.
JS: He was in the army and in his twenties at the time. He never saw any action because he was in the military police. They wouldn’t let him fight because of a large scar he had on his arm that he got when he was younger. He was in a fight with someone and he punched a glass window, which gave him the cut. He was upset that he couldn’t fight. I remember the entire family went to see him leave at the airport, and we all had tears in our eyes because we were so sad to see him go. My mother was very nervous for the rest of the war.
GC: You once told me that your father loved Mussolini. What did he ever say about him or Adolf Hitler?
JS: My father, [Silviano Trumbetta], adored Mussolini, because he was originally from Rome, Italy himself before immigrating here. He thought he did a very good job over there and continued to follow him from America. He was allies with Hitler, so you could not say a bad word about either of them around him or he would get very angry, especially Mussolini—no one was allowed to speak ill of him. I remember him constantly listening to the radio during the early years of WWII about anything involving him. He was very upset and angry when he was executed.
GC: When did my grandpa [Charles Shutter] go into the army?
JS: He went in right after the war had ended. He was only 17 at the time, so his father had to sign for him. We had been dating and he wrote me a lot of letters that I still have even to this day. He was stationed on the USS Houston. When his service was over, we got married. One time, he was stationed in Germany, and he brought back a lot of souvenirs like knives and swords, but he also brought back a German flag with a Swastika on it. His father got very angry and burned it right in front of him. The reason for this is, we think, is because there was German blood on his side of the family, and his father did not want anyone to know [after the country’s embarrassment at the end of WWI]. Their last name was originally spelled “Schutter”, which is German, but the father changed it to “Shutter”, which is British. Still, people always thought we were German, because it was pronounced the same way. We always got great service whenever we went to a German restaurant called Reinhardt’s, because we would give them our name while waiting for a table.
GC: What do you remember about being in school during WWII?
JS: Not very much, but when I was in sixth grade, before the war began, our class had a chance to see President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You had to be in sixth grade; otherwise, you were kept in school. For some reason, he was on Staten Island, so they took us to watch his motorcade come down St. Paul’s Avenue. It was very nice and a lot of fun. It was the first time I ever got to see a president up close. I remember him sitting down in his open-top car, smoking a cigarette in one of those really long, fancy holders.
GC: Were there ever any air raid sirens?
JS: We had those a lot, and most were during the day and not at night. They were the loudest noises you ever heard, much louder than even a fire truck. We would be outside playing in the schoolyard or at home in our back yard, and as soon as you heard it, that meant it was time to stop whatever you were doing and come inside. When they happened at night, we had to go in and shut all our lights off. We were scared whenever they did these, because it could have been a real emergency and we wouldn’t have known.
GC: You always said there were a lot of soldiers walking around near your house. Why was that?
JS: We lived near Stapleton, and there was a base there. They had piers and barracks for the soldiers and their families. There were always many soldiers and MP’s walking around, and we felt safe because of that. We knew they were guarding our ships. When the war ended, they brought in submarines for a short time, and when I was 17, I took a group-tour and was able to go on one. I don’t know how the soldiers could stand being in such a small place. It would have given me claustrophobia.
GC: Do you remember anything about Harry Truman and the bombing of Hiroshima?
JS: Not really because we did not pay attention to these things as a child. Years later though, John Wayne filmed a lot of his movies where they tested some of those bombs, even though they warned him and the other actors about the danger. It’s no surprise that he and a lot of the others died of cancer.
GC: Were you ever put on rations?
JS: Yes, we were rationed. We were given green stamps that could be turned in for something, like coffee, flour, sugar, bread, and even shoes. We were only allowed to get one pair of shoes, which was very difficult for our family since my mother and father had to take care of six children who were still living at home at that time. It was hard to get by sometimes.
GC: Did you ever watch the television series Victory at Sea?
JS: Oh yes, my husband and I would watch it every time it was on. The music was very loud, patriotic, and warlike. I think it was on Sunday nights. We both enjoyed it, especially since he was in the navy.
GC: Do you remember when the war ended and what you felt like?
JS: We were very happy. That’s all; just a feeling of happiness. Like I said earlier, we didn’t worry about a lot since we were so young, but my mother was always worried about our brother, who came home when the war ended. Even though he was an MP and did not see action, he was still over in Europe guarding ships and doing other duties. When he came home, we threw him a big party. We had music playing on the jukebox and a big American flag hanging from the front porch to welcome him. My parents were immigrants, but they loved America and what it stood for, and my mother was very proud of him, and always loved to fly the flag. She had cried when he went in for service, so we were all very happy for the both of them when he came home. He never had a furlough in the time he was away, so we never saw him from the time shortly after Pearl Harbor until the war ended.
GC: What was life like in the 1940’s?
JS: It was alright until Pearl Harbor—that changed everything. After that, you could not do everything you wanted to do. We were on rations, everyone had to be inside by a certain time; things like that. Aside from the war, it was a nice time to live through. You could get anything you wanted and the prices were so cheap. We would go to the movies on Saturday and Sunday at the Victory Theater. For 25 cents, you got a day’s worth of movies. Candy was five cents and cigarettes were 15 cents a pack. Life was just so different. I remember paying five cents to ride the bus too.
GC: What do you think was a better time to live: the 40’s or today?
JS: WWII aside, the 1940’s, definitely. Life was very simple. We passed the time with a lot less than people had today and we did not feel deprived. We were able to have a lot of fun with very little. The world also felt like a much safer place because there was a lot of trust. You could trust anybody and no one ever got hurt. It will never be like that again.
GC: Do you have any other comments you would like to make?
JS: I wish I could, but I do not remember much else. I was very young and we didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the world as much as we should have. We didn’t have television either; all we had was the radio, and that was more for our parents than us.