Local view: Finding gratitude in the world
As Hill City News Publisher Gay C. Huntley pondered his annual Thanksgiving editorial 70 years ago, his mind swirled around one thought, "Is there any reason for gratitude in this world of worry?"...
As Hill City News Publisher Gay C. Huntley pondered his annual Thanksgiving editorial 70 years ago, his mind swirled around one thought, “Is there any reason for gratitude in this world of worry?”
Huntley had owned the News since Hill City’s incorporation in 1910 in a remote area of forest and peat land 90 miles west of Duluth. He, like many others in the newspaper business, felt it was his duty to comment on issues that affected the village. The renewal of war in Europe in 1939 troubled Huntley immensely. He feared a repeat of 1917 when local boys were conscripted to fight in France. Huntley believed the only thing the war produced were broken men or dead men.
In the spring of 1940, as support increased among some political and business leaders to aid those at war with Germany, Huntley warned his readers, “Every day via radio and daily newspapers, subversive elements are at work trying to break down the resistance of our people and to make them war-minded.”
The News had backed Republican Wendell Willkie in the general election, but with most of Europe under Nazi occupation in 1941 Huntley conceded the inevitable when he wrote, “President Roosevelt says we must make sacrifices to help defeat the dictators. That’s understood, and he will find the people generally willing to tighten their belts and dig deeper in their pocketbooks to help pay the costs. There will be some grumbling, but they will not only go on short rations but will offer the pick of the country’s manhood if necessary.”
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor a few months later, Huntley told his readers, “The News is enlisted in this war, and we pledge unqualified support of President Roosevelt and Congress in every way possible.”
In the gloom that hung over much of humanity, Huntley understood the serious threat to American liberty posed by the all-consuming evil of the Axis forces. He used the News to help his friends and neighbors accept the sacrifices required of them on the home front. Articles appeared about massive rationing efforts, scrap metal drives and taxation programs. The rationing included tires, gasoline, shoes, clothing, meat, coffee, sugar, butter and cooking oil. The national Salvage for Victory campaign promoted the collection of rubber, waste paper, iron, steel, brass, lead, copper and aluminum. Hunters and trappers were asked to retrieve animal fat for use in the making of explosives and to save duck and goose down for military sleeping bags. A new 5 percent Victory Tax was deducted from every worker’s paycheck. Residents raised thousands of dollars supporting seven national War Bond drives. The burdens placed on one small village were replicated all over America.
Every week Huntley published letters in the News that were sent to him by servicemen and servicewomen. He also created a Roll of Honor for those from the area who died serving their country. By war’s end the list included 10 names.
As Huntley contemplated his 1944 Thanksgiving editorial, he decided to focus on the character of the young people fighting to protect the American way of life. He addressed his community in this manner:
“Did you say you have nothing for which to be thankful? Your sons, brothers, husband or sweetheart are with the armed forces and facing untold dangers, perhaps injury or even death. None of us like war, we didn’t want war with any other nation or people. But war came to us, and we can be exceedingly grateful that our men are willing to face the danger because of their love for our country. They don’t like the job nor did they ask for it, but they are doing the work in a manner that brings tears to our eyes as our hearts overflow in humble gratitude.
“Let us kneel and give devout thanks to the Almighty for this great blessing.”
Soon many of us will gather for an abundant Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps we will be honored with the presence of someone who sacrificed at home or served in the military during World War II. Their sense of duty during those dark days is worthy of our remembrance and appreciation. Without their commitment to preserving our freedom, we would not be having Thanksgiving.
Paul M. Sailer of Wadena, Minn., is the author of “The Oranges are Sweet: Major Don M. Beerbower and the 353rd Fighter Squadron.”