Christmas Eve at the front

Soldiers on Christmas Eve, WWIIWe take our worldwide communication capabilities for granted. In an age where FaceTime and Skype allow us not only to speak to those halfway across the world, but to see them at the time, it is easy to forget that only a couple generations ago such interaction was impossible.

Radio made communication between service members and their families possible. The urge to communicate with their loved ones during World War II culminated in “Christmas Eve at the Front,” a nationally broadcasted radio special “spontaneously suggested by American servicemen” serving on the front lines to show Americans back home how they were spending the season, as well as send their well-wishes and messages of encouragement. Listen to an excerpt from the program.[audio:|titles=Christmas Eve at the Front]

“Christmas Eve at the Front” connected soldiers from England, China, India, and the Pacific theater to American radios. Listeners heard soldiers in England gather to sing Christmas carols. They also learned that the rations they saved for the war effort helped to give the soldiers a special holiday treat. As one soldier commented, the group used saved rations of powdered milk and eggs, combined with corn starch and cocoa, to make ice cream.

But the war was also difficult for the soldiers. They commented on working twenty-four hour watches, even on Christmas, with the enemy flying nearby over their heads. And yet, as a gunner from Pennsylvania put it, “There’s one ship in our group called “Heaven Can Wait”. It’d be like heaven to be home for Christmas this year. But Heaven not only can—but has to wait—until our job is finished.”

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

You may request access to the complete recording from the Marr Sound Archives.

Christmas mailings during wartime

2011-12-15_ChristmasMail_Church_ViaWikimediaFor many, the holiday season is a time of family, good food, and gift-giving. During wartime, however, this time of year can be rough for families separated from loved ones serving overseas. I heard just the other day that many troops overseas get so excited to receive any word from home or even better, a care package. Thanks to technology, communication is much easier as we don’t have to rely solely on snail-mail. Could you imagine how useful Skype or instant messaging would have been back in World War II?

Inevitably, snail mail was the only option for them, but they made the most of it. According to a 1943 interview (available by request) with Kansas City postmaster, Alexander W. Graham, millions and billions of people send out Christmas cards, letters, and packages every year, including those serving in other countries. This interview served mainly to inform Kansas City listeners about cut-off dates for Christmas mailings. As an example of these deadlines, Postmaster Graham noted that the cut-off to send Christmas mail to somewhere as far as Australia was mid-September for Army and Navy personnel. Talk about doing some early Christmas shopping!

Since that time, shipping nationwide has gotten faster. I looked on the USPS 2011 mailing deadlines for nationwide shipping deadlines and found that a package can reach its domestic destination within five days. According to postmaster Graham, this deadline, which was subject to change based on how far across the country it would travel, was December 10th. Oh, how spoiled we are, that we have the luxury of Fed-Ex and UPS overnight shipping!

This interview had a specific purpose: to alleviate the shipping issues that the postal service frequently dealt with every holiday season. I think the funniest quote from the interview was the last comment on the subject. The KMBC interviewer asked Postmaster Graham if he had any other suggestions for listeners. His responded with the following: “…a postman is not allowed to loiter on his route, and if Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen would […] indicate the zone delivery district number on the cards and packages they mail, they will do far more to relieve the postal employees of their Christmas headache than offering them a cup of hot chocolate.” Apparently, mailmen of that time were getting sick of drinking hot chocolate. So when you mail out your Christmas cards and gifts this holiday season, think of Postmaster Graham’s wise words, and don’t forget our troops overseas!

Gabby Tuttle, KMBC Project staff/Liberal Arts (BA) student

Practical pointers for Thanksgiving, courtesy of the Food Scout

2011-11-17_FoodScout_Church_NutsWith Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are reminded of the joys of the family feast, replete with turkey, stuffing, all the sides, and the awesome post-meal nap to come. But we are also reminded of the frustrations that come with trying to crack open those assorted holiday nuts and often ending up with pinched fingers or reducing the nut kernels to pitiful crumbs. We would just as soon pay double for the de-shelled nuts, except we spent all the extra money we had on the rising cost of Thanksgiving groceries. If only we had someone out there who could teach us the way….

Look no further! KMBC’s Food Scout is here to help! If you ever wanted to discover that “information in and about a nutshell,” June Martin is your gal. Sure, the advice may have been from 1940, but there are just some nut-cracking tips out there that are timeless, am I right?

Take the hard-shelled almond. They, along with other difficult nuts, simply need to be cracked efficiently at its point of weakness with the right amount of force, according to June: “Place it on the edge with the divided side up, and then strike it lightly on the divided edge. The kernel will come out in one piece then.” Not only did she divulge the secrets of the almond, but she also provided the hints you need to tackle the hazelnut, the pecan, English walnuts, and Brazil nuts. Take a listen to our sound clip of June’s sage and practical advice for this holiday season. To be sure, if you choose to arm yourself with the Food Scout’s tips for cracking shells, no nut is safe![audio:|titles=Food Scout Clip]

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

You may request access to the complete recording from the Marr Sound Archives.

Labor Days of yore

2011-09-01_LaborDay_Church The first Monday every September is Labor Day, and it has been ever since legislation was rushed through Congress in merely six days in 1894. Americans celebrate Labor Day by engaging in the most relaxing pastimes: closing public pools, preparing for football season, putting their white linen pants at the back of the closet, and partaking of a staggering array of grilled meats. The day was initially proposed to celebrate the “strength and esprit de corps of trade and labor organizations” at a time when unions were incredibly powerful. Their power has eroded in the 107 years since Labor Day was declared a national holiday, but I think I can speak for all of us when I thank the gentlemen from the Pullman Strike of 1893 for getting a Federal holiday as a token of reconciliation from President Grover Cleveland and company.

Labor Day 2011 comes at an ironic time, with unemployment at 9.1% and the economy still not recovered from the crisis of 2008, but one need only to look back 70 years to see a Labor Day on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. And thanks to the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection at UMKC, we cannot just look back, we can listen up.

On September 1, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a radio address rife with the emotion of impending war. Less than a month earlier, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill to draft the Atlantic Charter; within a month, the USS Greer was fired upon by a German submarine and the first Moscow Conference began. A mere three months later, Roosevelt would deliver the most famous speech of his life on “a day which will live in infamy” and war was declared on Japan.

American labor in September 1941 was engaged largely in the task of producing weapons of war despite the United States’ neutrality at the time. Roosevelt speaks to this dichotomy by declaring that “We have never sought glory as a Nation of warriors. We are not interested in aggression. We are not interested—as the dictators are—in looting. We do not covet one square inch of the territory of any other Nation. Our vast effort, and the unity of purpose that inspires that effort, are due solely to our recognition of the fact that our fundamental rights-including the rights of labor—are threatened by Hitler’s violent attempt to rule the world.”

It is endlessly fascinating to view this speech through the lens of the history that we know occurred after it was given. Two things particularly leap to mind. First, Adolf Hitler was an actual living person, a world leader in the middle of an intensely terrifying quest for world dominance. Over the course of time, that fact has been obscured by the invocation of Hitler and Nazism as code words for anything we find disagreeable, but there was a time when Hitler was “current events,” and hearing Roosevelt speak about the need to support the Allies in their efforts against the Nazi regime reminds us of that. Second, it is startling to hear the evolution of the United States as an international power. It took less than twenty years for us to go from Roosevelt’s powerful message of weaponry production as a defense for our fundamental rights to perhaps the greatest presidential farewell address of all-time, Dwight Eisenhower’s profound warning about the ever-expanding military-industrial complex.

You can read this speech online, as you can with lots of great speeches, but it’s really amazing to hear the words spoken.[audio:|titles=FDR Labor Day address]Roosevelt was an incredibly gifted speaker, filled with extreme intensity, and the Labor Day 1941 speech is a perfect example of his skills.

Of all the ways to document history, audio is the most captivating. This is an obvious thing when you’re talking about a speech, perhaps, but it holds true for anything. Watch video of the Hindenburg disaster with no sound and it is certainly eye-opening. But it really becomes heartbreaking when you hear Herb Morrison fight back tears and try and put into words what happened. Ditto the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, perhaps the most famous play in baseball history. The story is great, the video is great, but it becomes a transcendent moment when you hear Ernie Harwell’s call of “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

There are a lot of great historical audio recordings to be found in the KMBC collection at UMKC, including a great deal more from President Roosevelt. History comes alive when you hear it, and when I listened to the Labor Day speech I felt connected to a time and a place that I have no real comprehension of. I could practically taste the doctor-recommended Chesterfield brand cigarettes! Roosevelt’s Labor Day speech, and many of the others available, give us an opportunity to be in the moments that our parents and their parents lived.

Happy Labor Day, America!

Erik Klackner, guest contributor