We left our church family of seventy-five years ago celebrating the Sunday School picnic with lots of good food and competitive games for all ages. Overshadowing all these normal summer activities, however, loomed the threat of war. The entire world seemed to be involved. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June, the United States was the only major neutral country left. The war was already affecting our small town and our church. Back in the fall of 1939, when the war in Europe had just begun, a Girard boy, Arthur Fisher, age 15 had been returning home from a summer visit to England, when the passenger ship he was traveling on, the Athenia, was torpedoed and sunk. His body was never found. Since March of 1941, Girard young men were being called up to prepare for what might come. Then just in June our church family learned that Chongking, China had been heavily bombed by the Japanese. Our church folks had a long connection with that city ever since our young missionary couple, Kasiah and Dr James McCartney had established a mission hospital there. Now, that was probably destroyed, too.
But, of course, church life went on. The Methodist annual conference took place at Lakeside. The Girard News reported that Mr and Mrs J B Burtsfield and their daughter, Donna Jean, had attended the conference and were now home. Much of the information about our church comes from the News, our weekly newspaper at that time, published every Friday. It is available on microfilm at Girard Free Library. It is a great supplement to our church archives, which tend toward reports of committee meetings, etc.
Because of the war, the News also had a different look about it from just a year before. It had a column called “News Briefs” which reported comings and goings of families such as the one about the Burtsfields attending annual conference at Lakeside. Now, in July of 1941, many of the “News Briefs” articles are more like the following: “Private George Adams from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, is visiting with his parents, Mr and Mrs Adams of E Liberty St for a few days.” And this article: “Mrs Ralph Norling and son, Dennis, of Ft Chester, Michigan, spent last week with Mr and Mrs Charles Norling of Lawrence Avenue. Mrs Norling and son had visited her mother while Lieutenant Ralph Norling was in Tennessee attending war maneuvers.”
On a happier note, the July 18th edition of the News carried the following story in its Society section: “Norma Moore – John Powers Wedding Announced at Tea” It went on to state that “the Bride-to-be graduated from Girard High School and Youngstown Business College. The groom-to-be graduated from Wittenberg College and is a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and Girard Junior Chamber of Commerce. He is employed by the Valley Mould & Iron Co.” Norma and Jack Powers lived up the street from our family for many years. Jack held the record for perfect attendance at Sunday School, unequaled by anyone in our church. It was over 50 years when he quit competing. He also taught Sunday School for years and served as Superintendent. Jack and Norma were good friends to us and to other young families on our block. Jack was a hard worker for our church, a member of Trustees for years. He saw our church through a number of big repair or upgrading projects. Jack and Norma’s daughter, Sue, began our church’s Pre-School. The Powers family left its mark on our church in many ways. I remember them all, fondly, especially Jack, who was a wonderful encourager as well as a doer.
Of course, even when planning a wedding, thoughts of a world at war were always there. In the month of July, 1941, the German army was rapidly advancing through the Soviet Union. That would have been reported in the news and on the newsreels. Probably not reported but taking place nevertheless, was the beginning of the Holocaust. On July 4th, all Polish scientists and writers were massacred by German troops when they took the Polish city of Lwow. On July 10th in the town of Jedwabne, local ethnic Poles massacred 340 Jewish residents. And on July 30th, in Croatia, the Ustase killed 200 Serbs inside a Serbian Orthodox church in Glina, with somewhere around 1000 killed in the area in the next few days..
On the final day of July, again not known until years later, Nazi official Hermann Goring ordered SS General Reinhard Heydrich to “submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired Final Solution of the Jewish question.”
So, we will leave our church family in July of 1941. They were worried about the future, of course, but continued on with their lives, even planning weddings. In many ways, it was perhaps better that they did not know about the ethnic “cleansing” and the Jewish “final solution” until much later. They did not know how many of their names would be listed on the war memorial across the street from our church. On July 20th, the Glen Miller Band had played at Yankee Lake. They did not know that in a few years, he would be gone, too, while entertaining our troops, in a plane that never returned.
July, 1941 – seventy-five years ago in our church, in our town, and in our country.