The Story of a Hero on the Home Front
A Tribute by Katie Piltch
Many people think of Americans in World War II solely in the context of soldiers fighting overseas. Although the soldiers get much of the credit for the war, these soldiers would not have been successful if not for the war efforts of American women on the home front. My great aunt Sylvia was one of these women, something I never knew before asking my mom if she knew anyone who was alive during World War II. The history of my family has always intrigued me, along with the history of women. Because Sylvia fits into both of these categories, I chose to dedicate my research to her and to find out more about her past. After interviewing my great aunt, I learned much more about her and feel a deeper connection to her because I learned things about her that many of my other family members didn’t. Sylvia and many other women volunteered their time and effort in order to help American soldiers fighting overseas. These women dedicated so much to the war that they deserve to be recognized for their patriotism and loyalty. Although not in combat, these women made the war a success for the United States.
December 7, 1941 was a regular day for my great aunt Sylvia, a senior in high school at the time, until an announcement from the principal told all of the students to report to the auditorium. There, Sylvia and her classmates were told that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the United States was going to war. As Sylvia vividly recalls, “Immediately, a group of boys that I went to school with stepped forward and announced that they would enlist. It was amazing.”
Joining the Jewish War Veterans Ladies Auxiliary
Immediately, life changed for all Americans. Many men were sent overseas to fight while women remained home to support the soldiers. In 1945, while a senior in college, Sylvia decided to join the Jewish War Veterans Ladies Auxiliary, or JWLV, which had been started in 1928 as a branch of the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary.
Sylvia also remembers holding and participating in blood drives, helping the wounded, some of which were disabled veterans. The JWLV hosted many of them, but often times Sylvia volunteered on her own.
Women on the home front did whatever possible to help the soldiers overseas. Women began working in factories, making things to send overseas, and began working jobs that had been usually done by men before the war. Because Sylvia was in college, she did not work a new factory job but volunteered every chance possible. Sylvia became a warden, checking to make sure that the lights of buildings and homes were out at night so that overhead planes could not spot them. Many times, Sylvia attended dances for returning veterans in order to raise their spirits. She remembers dancing on Scully Square “when the boys came home.” Sylvia liked seeing the soldiers and making their visits home enjoyable. She also attended to paralyzed veterans at hospitals and held events with the JWLV to help soldiers overseas.
The Stories of Others
During the war, Sylvia had many family members and friends who helped on the home front. Sylvia and my grandmother met as members of the JWLV before my grandparents even met. My great aunt Iris, Sylvia’s sister, was also a member of the organization. My aunt Iris and my grandmother both made “goodies” to send overseas, including blintzes, knishes and afghans. The two played large roles in the organization, as my aunt Iris has a scholarship named after her and my grandmother was a department president of the JWLV. Sylvia also had cousins stationed in Africa and Germany. One of her cousins invaded concentration camps in Germany, but “died of a broken heart” after seeing the terrible treatment of Jews in the concentration camps. Sylvia helped the United States to support her family, friends, other soldiers and her country.
As a Jewish woman, my great aunt is very proud of her heritage. Before telling me any individual volunteering she did for the United States, she told me about what other Jewish women did for the United States during the war. One thing Sylvia told me was that the first nurse killed in the South Pacific during the war was Jewish. The nurse was Lieutenant Frances Slanger and she was killed in October of 1944. Although Sylvia never met Lieutenant Slanger, she knows a lot about her because she is proud to be related to her through religion.
After sharing this special interview with my great aunt, I realized how interesting of a past Sylvia has and that I am greatly interested in it. I hope to continue to learn about her past and ask her questions because she has experienced something that is truly fascinating. I am glad that I chose to do such a personal story because without this project I never would have come upon this great piece of family history. Sylvia’s past is something I will always remember and I am grateful that I was able to learn so much about it. This interview is a lot more than a project; it is the story of an amazing woman devoted to her country and her family. As I learned more and more about Sylvia’s exciting past, I realized there is so much that I probably do not know about her and I cannot wait to discover it.
Interview with Sylvia Piltch. November 22, 2007.
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