• January 1, 1940:My entry into the World War II era was the diaries of my grandmother Beula. I never knew her. She died at age 72, six months before I was born. I had ignored them for years. They sat in a box in closets and attics and back rooms. I opened one or two once or twice but found them uninteresting. All she seemed to talk about was doing chores, cleaning, and visiting with friends. Opening them at random was no help. When I decided I wanted to get serious about this research, I started reading. They were a mini-treasure chest of information. Sprinkled with the mundane and daily were hints of the man I was looking for. The myth would become reality.
New Year and a lovely day. Dad, Harold, and I were alone for dinner. 3:30 Mabelle (sic) and Carl came and stopped for a few minutes.- Diary entry, Beula Keller Lehman
As Beula wrote in her diary of the daily life in her home, the world was in the early stages of an already deadly war. Two days into the New Year President Franklin Roosevelt would address Congress and set the stage for a later request of nearly $900 million for defense ($16 billion in 2018 dollars). He asked the Congress to approve increased national defense spending "based not on panic but on common sense" and "to levy sufficient additional taxes" to help pay for it. (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_1940) The officially neutral United States was getting as ready as possible for the day when we would enter the war - still nearly two years away! In the meantime Europe would continue to implode beneath the blitzkrieg tactics of the Nazis and the expansions of the Soviet Union. Some of the more famous first events of 1940 would be:
• British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin’s appeasement policy in ruins, Winston Churchill became PM.The United State was in the middle of a debate on isolationism. People like aviator Charles Lindberg and the US ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, would be some of its greatest proponents. A group known as the German-American Bund, later shown to be a Nazi-supported front, spoke out in favor of the work of the Nazis in Germany. Roosevelt kept up his not-so-secret plans to involve the United States in the war. The future of western civilization as he and Churchill saw it, was in grave danger. Between mid-September and mid- November the Congress enacted a “peace-time” draft, registration began, and the first draftees entered service.
• Unable to defeat the Nazis on the mainland of Europe, The British would stage the massive evacuation from Dunkirk
• Hitler and his troops would take Paris
• The Battle of Britain began with seemingly incessant bombing that would continue well into the war. London was bombed and the Blitz began.
• German Jews were ordered to wear yellow stars
• The Jews of Poland were ordered to move into the Warsaw Ghetto which two months later was cordoned off.
Little to none of this shows up in Beula’s diary. A Roosevelt Democrat, she “listened to President's speech and it was good.” She enjoyed the blockbuster movie, Gone With the Wind and even mentions when others of the family saw it. Lots of family things are there. She goes to the club or lodge. There were several trips to Bethlehem to see her daughter, Ruth; son Carl and his long-time girlfriend Mabel are in and out. Beula is often not feeling well and my grandfather has an accident at work (the finger incident?) and is in the hospital for four days in May.
One incident, though, stands out in the first half of the year. On April 25 she wrote:
Got [up] at 845 and heard the kids making a lot of noise and I looked out and saw a man climbing the flag pole at the high school to take down a German flag that had been put up during the night.The high school, which would become my junior high school in 1960, was less than half a block from her house. The report in the Jersey Shore Herald the next day reported that the incident was under investigation but was being hindered by the fact that there was uncertainty about what laws might have been broken. The article ended:
The incident appeared this afternoon to have been little more than the work of some local "crank" with the apparent result of centering interest as the scene of one of the first rural demonstrations of patriotism, fanned by the outbreak of the European war. (Jersey Shore Herald, April 26, 1940)The reason the incident stands out in my mind is part of the family myth. Somewhere in the past was a memory of being told that one of the “hellion” actions of my father had been to be part of a group that put a Nazi flag on the high school flagpole. There is no indication in the diary of my dad’s involvement in this, but the fact that such an event took place adds weight to the myth.
In reality. until the end of June there are few mentions of my dad in the diary. He is mentioned even fewer times than either of his siblings. That will change mid-year.