Joseph Weinstock

Joe today

By: Tali Solomon

When the United States first joined the war, my grandfather, Dr. Joseph Weinstock, better known as Joe, was 14 years old. His family were Jewish commercial poultry farmers in a small town called Lakewood in New Jersey. As well as all of the contributions their farm added to the war effort, such as selling and preserving food, Joe volunteered to be a plane watcher in the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS). He sat in a 50-foot tower once or twice a week for two or three hour shifts, watching the sky for shadows and reporting anything he saw by telephone to a military information center. He also collected scraps to be used in the factories that produced war materials. Joe's parents strongly supported the war, as they read Jewish newspapers so they knew Nazi behavior and they wanted to stop it.

Plane Watching:
As soon as the war began, the United States started using boys not old enough to be in the military as volunteers. Joe found out about the opportunity to be a plane spotter from his friend and he asked his friend's father for the job. He was given a blue armband with gold wings and was taught how to identify different planes as well as how to report them.

An original recreation of the logo similar to one that would have been on Joe's armband

The process for reporting a plane was very long. The plane could soar over your tower in a matter of seconds and you would have to remember eight things about that plane. When you first saw a plane, you were supposed to pick up the telephone and dial the information center. You would tell the person at the center the number of aircrafts you saw, if you knew what type of plane it was, if it had one or multiple engines, which direction it was headed, its altitude (high, medium, or low), its speed (slow, fast, or very fast), how far from your post it was, and if you had seen it or heard it. The center would thank you for calling, hang up, and verify that the plane you had just told them about was a scheduled American plane and not foreign invasion.

The post the army assigned Joe to was only ten miles away from the ocean. When he was first assigned to the job they had not built the tower yet. Joe stood outside a farmer's house and reached inside his window to use the telephone to report planes. Once the tower had been built, it stood 50 feet above ground with a ladder to climb up into it. Joe described it as "a little hut with windows [held up by telephone poles]". Joe sat up in the tower alone and even though he said the biggest challenge was to stay awake he told me, "You felt you were attributing something to war", as you had to report anything you saw. On average, Joe claimed that during a two-hour shift you would see between two and four planes, but he never saw any foreign planes, because no German planes could ever reach the United States.

Although no German planes ever reached the United States, my grandpa told me that a German blimp named the Hindenburg blew up when trying to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey on Thursday, May 6, 1937. This was four years before the war. Lakehurst, the town where my grandpa was living, was only 10 miles from the Station. This is his account of the event: Hindenburg

(On the left: The Hindenburg seconds after bursting into flames)


Life on the Farm:
When my grandpa describes 1942 he says “It was a different life then…when the war started, all of the sudden, life changed.” He recalled that almost every family he knew had a family member in service. At age 16 all boys had to register for the draft and you were available to be called on for service at age 18. He says that “it was much more self-sufficient”. Joe’s family killed their own chickens for food and had a garden to grow their own food in. They canned fruit, vegetables, and jam for the winter since there were no freezers. He remembers that milk was rationed and that milkmen no longer delivered milk to the house, so Joe’s family bought a goat for milk. He told me that going into town was a big deal because going to town and back was a gallon of gas from his house, and gas was rationed.

(On the right: Posters were put up around the United States telling civilians to grow their own food in gardens. Joe's family had their own garden on their farm that grew a variety of vegetables shown on the poster.)

Other products were rationed too, such as butter, meat, eggs, and shoes. The government gave out books with coupons for the rationed products to keep it under control. According to Joe, “When you went to the butcher and bought meat he would tear out a meat coupon in your booklet. Once you ran out of coupons, you had no meat until you got more coupons.”
two women covering windows with blackout curtains to prevent light from shining out towards the coastline
When I asked about his family’s poultry farm, Joe said their operations were greatly affected. Joe proudly stated,“Eggs were one of the rationed items. Some people sold their eggs on the black market to make more money, but my father never did that”. Joe also told me that when chicks were hatched they had to keep them in a contained space heated by coals. They needed a certain size coal to keep the chicks alive and any size coal was hard to get at the time. In addition, Joe’s family lived not too far from the ocean and the government was afraid of foreign invasion. They were told to black out the lights in their chicken coop by covering the windows with burlap bags so German submarines could not see them.

(On the left: Two women hang blackout curtains over windows to prevent light from shining onto the coastline, much like Joe's family did with the windows in their chicken coop.)

Except for the fact that War World II was the tragic death of my grandpa's mother's parents in Poland, when the war ended my grandpa went back to his ordinary life and continued on to be a prominent chemist. However, he knew that he had thrived during the war because of his family’s strong support, his volunteer work, and the family farm. Joseph Weinstock grew up to have a large, closely-knit family of 10 children, a wife, and sprawling farm of his own. He carries his fond memories of plane watching with him everyday.

Joe with his family today

Although Joe Weinstock's story is not a dramatic tale about a life changing war he did help his country in numerous ways. From scrap collecting, to farming, to watching for planes Joe did all he could to help his nation and should be a role model for many. He has pride in his country, something you do not see in everyone today, and he has carried this pride throughout his life. I enjoyed spending this time with my grandfather and learning about his war experience. I now look up to my grandfather, not only because he is esteemed in his career, but because I hope to learn the dignity and strength that he carried himself with throughout the war and continues to carry with him today.

Interview with Joseph Weinstck. Jan 2011.

Clements, John E. “Ground Observer Corps Aircraft Warning Service, 1944.” Memory of the Ground Observer Corps.  N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2011.

Corbis. Victory Garden World War II poster. N.d. A&E Television Networks, 1996. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.

The Hindenburg several seconds after bursting into flames. 6 May 1937. Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, Inc. NLHS,  1 Oct. 2006. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.

McNeill, Allison. “Civil Defense.” American Home Front in World War II. Ed. Allison McNeill, et al. Vol. 1. Detroit:  Gale, 2005. 123-139. Print.

A portrait of Joseph Weinstock. July 2010. Personal photograph by author. Taken in July during the summer of 2010.

Rendell, Kenneth. “The Homefront, Then and Now.” Interview by Ben Wattenberg.  Walter Berns, Bob Bateman, and  Bob Dallek. Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg. Andrew Walworth, John Sorensen, Matthew Faraci, Chris Kilmer, and  Christina Mazzanti. PBS. 29 Nov. 2001. Web. Transcript. 18 Jan. 2011.