Betty Gulliver Johnson

Remembering World War II in Ames, Iowa

I’m Betty Johnson, but when I was growing up in Ames during the Great Depression and World War II and their aftermath, I was Betty Lou Gulliver or Elizabeth or Betty Gulliver, depending on how old I was and who was teaching my class in school.  My parents, Henry and Hildred Gulliver, moved to Ames from Wayne, Nebraska, in 1931 when I was 6 months old.  The family grew with the addition of four siblings born from 1933 to 1940.  My father had a radio repair and sound systems business, adding TV after the war.


Whittier School

When World War II began, I was in 5th grade at Whittier School on Lincoln Way.  As a ten-year-old in the fall of 1941, I started the year in the fifth grade and ended the year in the sixth grade.  When fifth grade assignment was finished, I would observe and listen to what the sixth graders were learning.  As far as I can remember, the only thing I missed in either grade that year was when a two week bout of scarlet fever kept me quarantined  at home while the older kids were learning the capitals of the U.S. and then of the world.  (During that time my father had to leave before we got up and return after I went to bed.)  So it was off to Central Junior High the next fall.  Since my birthday was the end of January and I was the tallest one in seventh grade, it wasn’t obvious that I was probably the youngest one in the class.

I realize that the war touched my life as a child in a much different way than if I had been even a few years old. The only close relative in the service was my uncle, who was in the Air Force Meteorological Corps in England.  I think my parents wanted our lives to be as normal as possible under the circumstances of rationing and other restrictions, and probably shielded us somewhat from the awfulness of the war in Europe and the Pacific.  And of course, not having TV to show everything instantaneously was significant.  Most of what I now know about the World War II came in the years after it was over.   The things I remember about that time were the things that affected me pretty directly.

A Good Neighbor Policy had been proclaimed toward all countries south of the border.  Reinforcing that were some of what we saw at the movie theater, for instance, Disney’s animated movie, Three Caballeros, and movies starring Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda with her fruit-laden hat dancing those exotic Latin numbers and singing in English that was heavily Spanish-accented.  And of course, Latin dances were popular, especially the Conga line, even in the 8th grade extracurricular dance class my parents made me take, though mostly we learned more sedate dances like the fox-trot and waltz and two-step.  WOI radio broadcast Spanish language lessons regularly (several times a  week?), and we would get the curriculum materials and work sheets ahead of time, then the whole family sat around the radio to listen and learn.  I still remember much of it.

I remember going out into the country and collecting milkweed pods for the kapok which supposedly was used to make life jackets buoyant.  (We wondered if it really worked.)  There was a can on the back of the stove to collect fat from cooking; when it was full my mom took it somewhere for recycling.

We, like everyone we knew, had a Victory Garden, which we were expected to help plant, hoe and harvest.  Canning the excess was a big job that the whole family participated in, including my retired grandparents who lived with us during the warmer months.  One summer my father (an incurable over of new-fangled things and an inventor himself) brought home a contraption that would seal tin cans, and those were added to the array of glass jars on the cellar shelves; occasionally a bulging lid would betray a poor seal & a can would be thrown out, usually before it exploded on the shelf with very messy results.

Mom and Dad were Red Cross first aid instructors, leading classes in the evenings, so our hired girl, Carrie Ann, would come and baby sit.  They taught us many of the same skills too.

I remember convoys of rumbling planes going over like migrating flocks of geese; small flags in house windows with one or more blue or gold stars on them; taking 10 cents to school once a week to buy  a savings stamp to paste in a small booklet which, when full, would be exchanged for a war (savings) bond.  (Those were cashed in after the war to help pay for my and my siblings college expenses.)


East Central Junior High School
(high school when this postcard was published in 1920)

My 8th grade (1943-4) music class on the second floor in Central Junior High School (across the street from the new high school, which is now the city hall)  was taught by a young woman who thought the usual songs we were supposed to learn were neither interesting nor relevant, so we sang patriotic music and the theme songs of every branch of the armed forces, usually more than one verse:  The Caissons Go Rolling Along (Army), Off we Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (Air Force), From the Halls of Montezuma (Marines), Anchors Aweigh (Navy).  We also learned songs (maybe not in school !) like Praise the Lord & Pass the Ammunition, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me, Mairzy Doats, Remember Pearl Harbor, Accentuate the Positive, and a-Tisket, a-Tasket.  We listened to the Top 40 Hits on the radio and the tabletop juke boxes at Moore’s Dairy, loved the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Kate Smith (God Bless America).

When we went to the movies at the Collegian Theater (10 cents until I turned 12 years old), the newsreels and March of Time preceding the film were visual reminders of the war going on far away.  The movies that resonated most with this romantic, impressionable teenager were those about finding love, then being separated by the war, sometimes forever.  The songs from those years (mostly from the movies) still take me back:  As Time Goes By, I’ll Walk Alone, I’ll be Seeing You, It’s Been a Long Long Time, On Blueberry Hill.

Letha Davidson


My family lived at 1107 Lincoln Way until 1943 or 1944 when we moved to 709 Douglas, probably when I was in 8th grade.  The Ames Library, with head librarian, Miss Letha Davidson, was my second home.  During the summer of 1943, I was asked to take her library training class along with a few other kids and started working there a few hours a week during the school year, and more during the summer.  The library was next to an auto repair business which usually had their radio turned up load.  I was shelving books in the adult section on the south side of the building near an open window on a warm May 7, 1945, when I heard the announcement on the next door radio of the victory over the Germans.  Shouting, whooping, hollering from the men, and I guess we in the library did a little of the same ourselves.

Betty Johnson, 12814 March Circle, Minnetonka, MN 55305