Interview with Luella D. Ostrofsky
In these excerpts, Luella D. Ostrofsky of Easton, Connecticut, discusses growing up during the Great Depression, learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor, her work in an airplane factory, and the wartime service of her loved ones.
OSTROFSKY: I started high school in 1930, ’31. 1930. September, I think. ’30? ’31, ’32, ’32, ’33, yeah. Graduated in ’34.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So, had the Great Depression affected Dover-Foxcroft?
OSTROFSKY: It certainly did. There was no … nobody could find a job. There were no jobs. And any of the merchants couldn’t afford to hire anybody, and my graduating class was the only class over these many years that didn’t have a yearbook, because the principal said that the merchants can’t afford to put an ad in it, and of course it takes money to put out a yearbook. We did one fifty years later. Yeah, we did. Quite a lot of things happened in that fifty years. So that’s, So what’s your question? [*laughs*]
WONGSRICHANALAI: What did you have on the farm? Cows, chickens?
OSTROFSKY: Yeah, my dad had dairy, yeah. We had big gardens and we had at least an acre planted in just beans, cause … and another acre of just potatoes, cause that was our main diet. Beans and potatoes. Baked beans, potatoes. Potatoes was … I don’t … I don’t think maybe a day went by that we didn’t’t have one meal with potatoes. And I guess it didn’t hurt us, because we … everybody grew, lasted quite a while on the beans and potato. So, that’s it. Other than that, we had chickens, of course, raised some for eating and had plenty of eggs for ourselves. We had during the depression, we had no money at all for fancy clothes or anything else, but we always had plenty to eat, cause my dad had these monstrous vegetable gardens. And my mother canned and pickled and made preserves and she probably had three or four hundred jars of stuff which kept us through the winter.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What were your parents’ names?
WONGSRICHANALAI: What were your parents’ names?
OSTROFSKY: My dad was Lewis and my mom was Lillian. So.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What was downtown Dover-Foxcroft like?
OSTROFSKY: Well, it was a small town. It was probably, what, six thousand people. Not right in the town, but in the … like, we were … We were out in the same town, but way out in the farming area. Oh, there was a nice theatre, a very good theatre, only the one. There was the high school. And on Main Street was all your … There was a department store, banks, grocery stores, hardware. What do you call them? No, not hardware … What do you call hardware stores? Hardware stores where you get all your tools. OK. It was a busy place. Outside of those few years of the depression. As I say, everything just stood still and as soon as Pearl Harbor was blasted off the face of the earth, the woolen mills began to churn, two woolen mills in the town. And they were, started making them woolen cloth for uniforms. And of course everybody was grabbing for a job… So anyways, after … Then they began to set up what do you call them? Induction stations there to … everybody got a number. I believe a song came out “They Drew My Number.” You know? I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it, but … I’m not going to sing it, so. [*laughs*] Anyways I think Uncle Shep was the first one to go, and then Uncle Stan went. He must have gone in about a year after Pearl Harbor. That was early February, 1943. I didn’t’t have a job and, of course, all jobs were grabbed when the woolen mills opened, so there was no opening there. So I wrote down to the state at Augusta saying that I’d like to get compensation or whatever they were doing at the time. And they wrote back and said no, they’re not handing that out to anybody because there was … They need help in Connecticut. So, and there was going to be a representative from the Chance-Vaught Airplane Factory in Bangor, so I hopped on the bus and went to Bangor and was interviewed. That guy interviewed me and told me all about it. And in two days time I was on a train headed for Bridgeport. So, I … The whole city of Bridgeport was blacked out. The only light you could see was a puddle of light under the lamp lights, the street lights. Cause they had the war on. You can’t have city all bright, you know? Puddle of light under each one of the lamplights because they had a black thing over it. So, you only had one little puddle of light. When I got off that train, eight o’clock at night, everything was black. I had no idea where I was going. And I finally crawled into a … into a hotel. Got one room. Next morning I was out of there quick. And I had a great big suitcase because I thought I was going to stay for a while. So, I went back to the railroad station and you don’t have to write this down. You can tell me to shut up when you want. I took my suitcase back to the railroad station, had it checked in, I said I can’t be dragging that around. And then this city bus came along and it had the sign on it “Airport,” and I said God, that’s me, everything was working just in my favor. So, I got on that and went to the airport which is in Stratford. The Bridgeport Airport is in Stratford. I spent the whole day over there in the … Cause there was a lot of people coming in, getting jobs. The whole day there, you had a complete physical, they made sure you weren’t a spy, or, I mean, the whole day. So when I left there they said “Oh, just a minute, we’ve got to get you a room.” So, they picked up the telephone and got me a lovely room on a residential piece of Bridgeport. So I had a room, and the next day I went to work over at Chance-Vaught. Vaught-Sikorsky. Sikorsky is … Sikorsky had the helicopter built there at the same time. But then they got so big, they moved down to a bigger place. So then it became Chance-Vaught. Not that it matters, I guess at this point, I don’t know what else. So, I was right there till the war ended and we worked ten hours a day. I was putting in … Saturday was an eight hour. And then, when the war ended, all of a sudden they decided they would, this company decided they would go down to Texas. They went to Waco, Texas, I think it was Waco. And I could have gone with them. I was called back in and I didn’t know whether I wanted to go or not but then they gave me a second notice that my job was there if I wanted it. That time I’d met Milton and he said, “No, don’t go.” So, I didn’t go. So, that was the end of that.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Let’s go back a little bit.
OSTROFSKY: So I worked harder doing housework and taking care of kids than I did in the … But I was putting, I was putting one of the ribs together that went in the wing of the plane. And it was a big thing. I mean they said it was curved like this and by drilling holes I had to get it ready for the riveters. And this is another thing, Rosie the Riveter got all the credit and it was us other girls were putting it together. All they had to do was take out the pins that we’d put in. You know, you make holes and you put a certain pin in there to hold it together. When it gets in to the riveters, they take that pin out and shove a riveter in. Well, any dopey guy can do that, I thought. I was doing that, but it was big and if I’d drill, I’d have my arm over it like this with my little hand drills making holes. And they liked my work, I got very good compliments from the big, as a matter of fact one of the big bosses said “God, if you had another girl like Dow in here you could tell everybody else to go home.” I was so happy to have a job after being brought up so poor and not having anything. That I kept right my shoulder to the wheel, you know? So to speak.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Was it very physical work?
WONGSRICHANALAI: Was it very physical? You had to …
OSTROFSKY: I was standing for hours. We were allowed fifteen minutes for a break during the forenoon and you had to say what time you wanted to go. So, the boss I guess looked over the thing and saw you gone if it wasn’t happened to be your fifteen minutes and again in the afternoon. And then we had a half hour for lunch. But that wasn’t given to us, we worked long enough, we went in at seven, come out at five-thirty.
WONGSRICHANALAI: How many people were working in the factory?
OSTROFSKY: Oh, God, we must have been two or three thousand people there. It was loaded. And vast. Big. Big. I was amazed.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And what was the … I mean what you did. What was that called? Was there a specific name, a title for what you did?
OSTROFSKY: I don’t think so. I knew I was putting together a rib that went into the … Course there were other people making other ribs too I imagine probably all I wouldn’t have any idea how many ribs would go into a plane. And that plane came down on a track of course. Anybody working on the, what do you call it, on the what do you call it? This, as that plane moved along whoever’s doing something.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Assembly line?
OSTROFSKY: Yeah, whoever’s working on it had to be sharp and do it before that moved on to the next one. And I was close to the end of the line. My department was. And when the whole plane was finished and they opened up the whole side of that building. Course these planes were little. They weren’t like the B-12 and B something or others. They’d open up the whole side of the building and shove it out onto the tarmac and rev it up, get the gas in it or get something in it and rubbed it up and took it out. Sampled it. And away it went. And they say if it hadn’t been for those Corsairs with the Japanese, we would’ve been in a heck of a pickle. It was quick, maneuverable, so… .
WONGSRICHANALAI: What were you doing in December of 1941?
OSTROFSKY: On December 7th. Oh, in 1941? I think I was doing housework for somebody else. My valuable three dollars a week. And it was a Sunday afternoon and I’ll never forget it. Always on Sunday afternoon or maybe the … all day Sunday, everybody congregated down at the home. Either dinner and they’d come down in the afternoon, the family was always together. And I can remember somebody flipping on the radio, you know there was no television at that time. Even though my kids want to know why my, why I went to bed early, they figured maybe daddy wouldn’t let us watch television. So, anyway, that’s where we were and somebody flipped on the radio and Roosevelt was just announcing that we had been bombed. By the Japanese. But I believe at the same time there was somebody from Japan into the president’s office talking with, they were pulling wool over his eyes or else Roosevelt knew a lot more than … Some of us wondered maybe Roosevelt knew that was going to happen, but wanted it to happen so we’d have a right to get into the war and get over it, or do something. I don’t know. At that particular time it’s kind of a lot of politics. Back and forth. So whether, whether he knew it or whether he didn’t, I don’t know. It happened anyway.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Well, was there a lot of news about what was going on in Europe and in Asia in the newspapers?
OSTROFSKY: Yes there was and especially in the newspaper. I don’t know that we got so much over the radio. But in the newspaper when my dad was following it along so closely. My dad knew everything that was going on. He read the newspapers from … And if you asked him any question on any country way over in Europe he could have told you what they were. My dad was smart, because he did an awful lot of reading. And he knew, and it worried him. Cause he had five sons and he figured what’s going to happen, lose some of his sons, and this worried him I think. Although Stan was over in Germany for four years. Came back … When he came back I was home for … In August I was home for a vacation and at that time the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Was it? Was that it?
WONGSRICHANALAI: Both of them, yes.
OSTROFSKY: And ended it. So, that was the end of that.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So of the five sons, how many of them joined the armed forces?
OSTROFSKY: How many what?
WONGSRICHANALAI: How many of the sons joined? How many of your brothers joined the armed forces?
OSTROFSKY: Only Stan. The others were married, had kids. Stan didn’t marry till he got to be fifty something years old, and I think he was thirty-six or thirty-seven-years-old. He was old to be drafted as a matter of fact. But he had no reason to get out of it, you know what I mean? He was single.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Is he an older brother?
OSTROFSKY: No, he was … He was the third brother down. Had three brothers older and two younger. But Lewis was only twelve-years-old at the time so, of course, he wasn’t going. Ralph had several kids and of course the other two brothers had kids. And my oldest brother was running a farm, had the farm next door to our home place, and course they needed … They needed all the food stuff that they could get. If you were doing something that was essential to the cause then you were safe. But Stan went, come home. Saw a lot of country.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Which branch of the armed forces was he in?
OSTROFSKY: He was regular army. Regular army.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So he was over in Europe?
OSTROFSKY: He was in Germany for a long time. And Uncle Shep was over there too. Shep is my sister’s husband. You probably know that. Yeah.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What’s his full name?
OSTROFSKY: Shepardson. Alfonso. His name is Alfonso Shepardson.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And which branch was he in?
WONGSRICHANALAI: And which branch of the armed forces was he in?
OSTROFSKY: Just the regular army. Yeah. He was stationed in Walla Walla, Washington when he first went in. Then he was shipped overseas.
WONGSRICHANALAI: How did your parents feel about Stan?
OSTROFSKY: Oh, they were so upset when he was drafted. Terribly upset. There were five boys. Now, I didn’t … I think there were maybe forty kids from my graduating class, and five of the boys were inducted and five of them killed. When Pearl, when the Japs hit Pearl Harbor, there were two boys from Dover who were killed and they had just signed up to go in. They signed up themselves to join, and they were immediately sent out to Hawaii and then that bomb came and these two boys, they were brothers, Bart and Willard Merrill, their name was. They were killed in. And of course that upset the whole town. First two to go, and two from one whole family, so. They were kids going to school, high school when I was there. So, what were we doing? We were probably sitting around the heating stove and gabbing about Christmas on that particular Sunday.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And then, when you decided to work in the airplane factory, what did you parents think about you leaving?
OSTROFSKY: Well, when I came back from Bangor and met the representative there from Chance-Vaught, mother said to dad “Luella’s going to Connecticut” and my dad said “no she isn’t” and I said “No, I guess I am.” I says, “there’s work out there and I want to work.” They never said another thing about it. So, that second day, the first whole day that I was there I called home, naturally. Said I had the job, I was beginning the next day. And I kept them very … a letter very close together to let them know what I was doing. And did it… .
WONGSRICHANALAI: How did you meet Milton?
OSTROFSKY: I met him … I was after the war and I said I didn’t want to go to Texas with them. I got a job with a bead chain company in Bridgeport… .
WONGSRICHANALAI: And he was from Bridgeport?
OSTROFSKY: Yeah, he was born in Bridgeport.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And what did he do during the war?
OSTROFSKY: What did he do?
OSTROFSKY: Well, he was stationed out at Oklahoma. In fact, what was it? Camp Gruber or something like that in Oklahoma for nine months. And then they had to let him go because he couldn’t march. Every time they’d go out on a march, his body would get as stiff as a board for some reason, and they’d lay him beside the road and have somebody come out to pick him up later. He just couldn’t march, there was something about, something in his back that, to walk, to walk for miles that couldn’t take it. So he was, I have his, his mustering out papers there. He was a good soldier, he had very good marks on his papers that they gave him to get out with. No problem with him but he couldn’t keep up with it.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So how old was he at that point?
OSTROFSKY: He was almost forty. He was forty when I married him. I was thirty.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So after Oklahoma he came back to Bridgeport?
OSTROFSKY: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, his parents were down there. They ran a little mom and pop store if you know what that kind of a store is.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And what did he do after he returned to Bridgeport.
OSTROFSKY: Oh, he was carpenter. My husband was a carpenter. And he worked with a machine shop, big machine shop in Bridgeport. He was on the maintenance, as a carpenter. Meantime he would work full time in the machine shop, and the same time weekends and all day Sundays he’d work on his houses that he was building. That was his hobby. That was his whole life. He loved doing that, swinging that hammer. He was good, good. He built this house, all by himself outside of the walls being plastered and the plumbing and the electrical work. If you go down cellar and see the number of building cement blocks in my foundation you wonder how in the world he ever did it. It is. I was going to help him and those blocks were seventy five pounds a piece. I picked up about three and I don’t think I got out of bed for two days… .
WONGSRICHANALAI: Did you worry about Shep and Stan during the war years?
OSTROFSKY: Oh yeah, I was writing to them. I think the whole family was writing to both of them. And also to Shep too and I’d send things to other boys in the service. Some kids I knew were in there and they liked some kind of cheese so I’d wrap up a piece, good big block of cheese and mail it out and I was working so I had the money for the postage. It was nothing to what it is today. And at the time I had a little hobby of collecting little pitchers. You know, little pitchers. So my brother-in-law Shep, I’ll show you something. He sent me from Germany, I should give it to one of his daughters. Should have given it to Peg. Peg and Rachel came down to Helen’s. He sent me this from Germany, meant the world to me, to go with my pitcher collection. He was good. I liked him. Not in a sexual way, but he was a good smart man. Alice was lucky to have him.
WONGSRICHANALAI: That’s beautiful.
OSTROFSKY: Isn’t it lovely?
WONGSRICHANALAI: I’m going to take a picture of that. So, he bought that in Germany?
OSTROFSKY: Came from Germany. Yeah. So I was writing to them. Both Stan and Shep.