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Wednesday, September 9, 2009
WWII Entertaining our Service Men
San Diego has two major military bases, the Marine Training Center and the Naval Base. During WWII the town was inundated with young men from all over the country who had been drafted and were in training. Many of these young men, boys really, were very young, seventeen, eighteen and nineteen. They were too young to go into bars or night clubs while on leave, and while San Diego has many attractions suitable for young people, these young men had very limited funds. The Y wanted to give these boys some place to go and participate in an activity they would enjoy. They decided to hold regular dances at the Y, free for all that attended.
The volunteers at the Y set aside a large room. A sound system was set up on a stage at one end. Girls were recruited from local high schools to act as hostesses. Lady volunteers acted as DJs, and chaperons.
A friend of mine and I were among those attending the first dance. We rode the street car downtown to the Y and entered in all our teenage splendor, pleated skirts, blouses, bobby socks and saddle shoes. We were definitely cool. The girls all stayed at the end of the room with the stage, standing and talking or sitting in the folding chairs against the wall. The boys congregated at the other end of the room. When the acting DJ put on the first record, and yes, they were vinyl 78s, the young men came across the room and asked a girl to dance. With the sounds of one of the big bands bouncing off the walls, we jitterbugged with boys from every state in the union. As there was only one song on each side of a record, there was a pause between numbers as the DJ changed records. These pauses gave time for your partner to return you to your place with the other girls. The next record meant you danced with a different partner. This was one of the rules, no pairing off.
Another rule, you could not leave the dance area with a young man. In addition to the DJ there were other ladies present who acted as chaperons, and believe me, these ladies took their responsibility very seriously. They were particularly vigilant during slow dances. They really had little to do. There wasn't a girl in the room whose mother had not told her time and again that a lady always maintained space between her body and that of her partner. We learned how to sit without showing any thigh by emulating the women that raised us, and no mother would have let her daughter leave the house inappropriately dressed. Then too, the young men were shy and lacked confidence. Just being off the base and talking to a girl was enough.
Similar activities were going on in any city with a large military presence. Churches held socials in the church basement, families invited a soldier home to have dinner with them. Because of these and other such activities many boys made friendships that went beyond the war years, writing letters and sending pictures to their adopted family.