Gittin’ Through: A Southern Town during World War II


Wars change everything. And no war in U.S. history changed the nation as much as World War II. Hundreds of books have been written about the war front: the battles, the generals and admirals, the heroics of our brave men and women. But little has been written about the home front, especially on how small towns faced the war and how the war changed these towns.

Ken Burns in The War did a magnificent job when he brought into our living rooms the impact of World War II on four towns. We were introduced to many ordinary citizens whose lives were forever altered by the Second World War. Tom Brokaw made us aware of The Greatest Generation and many of its famous and unsung heroes. But a book that focuses on a single small town is the best way to get to know people who wondered and feared what would come next during those tumultuous times.

Gittin’ Through: A Southern Town during World War II takes you into the public and private lives of three generations. You get to know the parental generation which is concerned about how they will make a living, put food on the table, keep a family together, take care of the elderly, and rear their children in the hope that the war will end before their sons are old enough  to go off to fight. You experience and sympathize with their children who are going through the trying stages of adolescence as they struggle to find out who they are and what they want to be and as they try to make some sense of the war. You find yourself caught up in the lives of a third generation—those who volunteer or are drafted into the services. These young people, who work in the small town or are in college, know that some of them will never return home or may be scarred for the rest of their lives. You, the reader, come into contact with many fascinating characters who walk the streets of Madison, who argue, joke with each other,  sort out what is happening on the war front and on the home front and do what all humans do, except under these stressful circumstances, their lives will be changed forever.

Do you have a batch of letters from an uncle, a grandfather or father who went off to war? Are you interested in the fashions, the popular music, the movies of that era?  What age were you then?  Let me know about your memories. So much to remember. So much to share.


an excerpt from the novel… the chapter on Pearl Harbor.

“Jimmy, git in the car. We’re already late. We shoudn’t have taken so long for Sunday dinner. Who’s that in the street walkin’ toward us? It looks like Bill Jackson. I’d better git out.”

“They’ve bombedPearl Harbor!”

“Who’s bombedPearl Harbor?”

“The Japs. Came in on the news ‘bout five minutes ago, ‘round one o’clock.  We were jest sittin’ down to dinner. I had the radio on in the next room. Was gonna listen to the symphony orchestra, and they had hardly started the broadcast when this announcer broke in and said the Japs had attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s started, James. We’re at war.”

“Where’sPearl Harbor?”

“That’s what I ast myself. Joan said it was in theHawaiian Islands.  I looked it up, and she was right. It’s the big naval base.”

“What’s the damage? How many killed?”

“Can’t say for sure. I’m goin’ back home to listen to the radio. I spotted you on my walk after dinner, and thought I’d let you know in case you hadn’t heard.”

“No, no, Bill I hadn’t. Thanks for tellin’ me. Son, did you hear that? We’re at war. The Japs have bombed a naval base in theHawaiian IslandscalledPearl Harbor. We’d better hurry to pick up Dad.  We’ll keep the car radio on for more news. God, I can hardly believe it.”

“Dad, sorry I’m late. You git in the front seat. Guess you heard the news.”

“Yep, I was havin’ my dinner. Effie had jest put the food on the table, and I heard it from the kitchen where she had on a gospel program. They stopped singin’ and the preacher told ’em ‘bout it right on the radio. I cut mine on. Seems nobody knows how many been killed or wounded. And it caught ’em all by surprise ‘bout seven o’clock in the mornin’ their time, and on top of that, a Sunday. But what would you expect from the Japs? Never trusted any of ’em.  Who knows how long it’ll last or how it’ll turn out.  Wel-l-l, I saw the last one, and I guess I’ll live to see the end of this one too. I still think we oughtta’ take a look at these old home places. Let’s jest keep the radio on.”

Dennis had not gone to church. He was in his office trying to come up with some new points for his editorial. He was not satisfied with having to borrow from Lippmann, but he was stymied. He kept thinking about the upcoming events: the Town Council meeting, the Chamber of Commerce Christmas dinner at the hotel, and the first home high school basketball game. The telephone rang. Mazie’s voice came over the line.

“Dennis, it’s your father. I suspect he has some news for you.”

“Seems that Mazie always takes the Sunday afternoon shift, and always has something to say to the person being called. What did she mean?  How would she know what my father is goin’ to tell me?”

“Yes, yes, Dad, I’m here in the office. Where else would I be at this hour on a Sunday? No, I don’t have the radio on. What? They’ve attackedPearl Harbor? Of course I know where it is. But when?  Any news on casualties? How many ships hit? Can’t tell yet. I’ll go right down stairs and git the radio and check the ticker tape. I heard it runnin’ a few minutes ago, but that thing’s always spewin’ out. Thanks for callin’. Yeah, I’ll be there for supper, probably by four o’clock, no, make that five with all this news breakin’. We’ll have a drink, and a lot to talk about”

“Looks like I’d better forget this editorial and start another one. Maybe hold off ‘til Wednesday. God, Pearl Harbor! Anybody payin’ attention thought it’d be Thailand or the Dutch East Indies, not a direct attack on the U.S. What are those bastards thinkin’? Do they really believe they can knock us out of the Pacific? And what will Hitler and Mussolini do? Will we be at war with them too?  Better git the radio, check the ticker tape, and think about this week’s edition. It sure in hell will be different now.”

Jim Clark and his parents were in their living room, only half listening to the radio as they rummaged through the Sunday paper when they heard the bulletin. Jim looked at his father and his mother. She sat there in a state of shock. Being from a Quaker background, she had a difficult time dealing with war in any form. Jim remembered her telling him about how she had opposed theUnited Statesgoing to war in 1917 and the abuses she suffered inMadison. But this unprovoked sneak attack should be easier for her to deal with. Jim glanced at his father. His health was failing; that heart attack had made him a different person.

“What will happen to Dad if things get bad here in Madison like rationing, black-outs, bombings or shellings along the East Coast? Dad will probably worry himself to death, literally. What will happen to the business if I get drafted?   If I don’t get a deferment, the business’ll go under ’cause he surely can’t handle it. But can I stay here, in Madison when I should be in the army, when everybody else will probably be gone?”

Evelyn was stunned when she heard the news after dinner. She and Howard had spent most of his leave making plans for the announcement party and the June wedding. She felt those conversations had occurred years ago or maybe not at all. Howard was not at Pearl Harbor; he was safe on a train going back to his base. Her mind was racing.

“I’ll be back here in three weeks. So will Howard. But will he, now we’re at war?  Will Howard get any leave? And what about my exams? They seem so unimportant right now, but I’d better be ready for ’em. At war! How did it all happen? I’ve been readin’ the papers, but I’d never have guessed it would come so soon. Better finish packin’ and git started. Wish Howard were here to take me back.”

Sarah arrived at Anna Lou’s house for their Sunday afternoon homework session. After reading history lessons or solving math problems, they usually spent most of their time talking about friends and boys, but not this afternoon.

“What do you think all this will mean, Anna Lou? Do you think we‘ll git bombed? The Japs will invade us?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I did hear Mama and Daddy taking ‘bout it after dinner. They’re worried ‘bout their money. Dad told her Mama that holding on to his farms and Mama’s plantation in Mississippi was ‘bout the safest thing they could do. He talked about buying stock in General Motors. You know, that company that makes all those cars. But, I tell ya Sarah, I’m afraid of those Japs.”

Wel-l-l, my Daddy, at first, was really, really mad. I’d never heard him use those cuss words. Then Mama told him to hold his tongue. He calmed down, jest sat there in his chair before goin’ over to his desk. He sat for a long time, using his addin’ machine and scribblin’ on a piece of paper. When he finally told Mama and me that the plant could increase production by at least 25% in the next six months, we looked at each other, puzzled. I thought he’d been afraid of what was gonna’ happen to Madison and us. But enough of this, what do ya’ think is gonna’ happen in school this week?”

Joe Gray worked all afternoon on his bus which had been leaking oil. Lucky break, the oil pan had a pinhead hole so he only had to patch it. He wiped the oil off his hands with kerosene before stepping up on the front porch. He was about to push open the whitewashed front door when Joe Jr. drove into the front yard.

“Pa, what do ya think’s gonna’ happen next?”

“Son, what da your mean? I ain’t heard what’s happened first.”

“Wher’ya been? Didn’t ya have on the raa-de-oo?  Them damn Japs done bumbed theHawaiian Islands. Tore ’em all up. Lotta soldiers and sailors killed. Last report said they done sunk a whole lotta ships. We’re in it fur sure. Hope you got the bus ready ’cause they’re gonna need everybody they can git to build them boats at the Navy yard.”

“Hell, Son, don’t worry ’bout the bus. Found that oil leak and she’s rarin’ to go. What ‘bout you? Where’re ya in that draft thang? You gonna git called up mighty fast, I s’pect.”

“You’re damn right, Pa. I’ll probably be gone ‘fore we’re through hog killin’.  Ain’t that the damnedest?”

“What da ya mean, Son?”

“Don’t cha see? I’m killin’ hogs and then, ’fore ya know it, I’ll be killin’ Japs.”

Effie Harrison walked home from William Jordan’s, feeling as if world events far  from Madison would somehow change her life. But when she realized how far away Hawaii was, her spirits lightened. How would a war over thee ever make any difference in her life?  She felt secure in her job, the pay wasn’t bad, and Mr. William was a good man, even if he stomped around the house when he was put out with her. But what ‘bout Thomas?

“Thomas, is dat you? Ya musta heard the news. Ain’t it sumpin?  A goin’ to war. Why can’t folks jest learn to live together?”

“Ma, you know I can’t answer that question. I jest know we’re in for a long fight, and your son’ll probably be in ’fore long. I figured I was already high on the draft list, and, now, I’ll be gone sooner than I ’spected. The way they been takin’ us niggers means I’ll be right up there. I jest hope they’ll hold my job for me while I’m gone.”

“You really think ya’re gonna  have ta go so soon?  My only son. What’ll ya do? I mean, will ya  have to kill somebody? Can’t ’magine my son doin’ sumpin’ like dat. The preacher’s always tellin’ us dat the Good Lord says we should luv our neighbors no matta’ who dey are. And talkin’ ’bout the preacher, I got to git ready for church. I wantsta  hear what my preacher’s got to say this afternoon. Are you comin’, Thomas?”

“Naw, Ma. I’s gonna stay here. Don’t need no preacher right now.”

Martha had been home alone Sunday afternoon. About four thirty, Mary Alice Barham called, so distraught that Martha was convinced Tom had done something awful.

“What will happen to our boys, Martha?”

“What da ya mean what will happen to our boys, Mary Alice? Jimmy’s fine. He’s off with his dad and granddad. Is John all right?”

“Martha, you mean you’ve not heard? We’re at war. The Japs bombed theHawaiian Islandsthis afternoon, and now the radio is sayin’ they’ve attacked thePhilippines”.

“No, Mary Alice I hadn’t heard a word, not a word. I had some peace and quiet ’round here so I thought I’d better git in some serious sewin.”

“Wel-l-l, it’s true. The Japs have gotten us into this war.  And, I’m jest worried sick ’bout what’ll happen to our boys. Their fathers jest missed the last one, and it looks like our sons will be in this one, certainly if it lasts for five or six years.”

“Mary Alice, I hardly know what, what to say. I’m lost for words. We’re at war, you say?  It’s been declared? I’d better turn my radio on.”

“Well-l-l, not officially, but for all practical purposes we’re at war.”

“But, Mary Alice, five or six years is a long time. Jimmy and John are only thirteen. They’re drafting eighteen year olds. The war’ll be over before they’re eighteen, that’s four years from this coming August. Let’s hope and pray it is.”

“I hope and pray so too, Martha. But I’m already worried sick over what might happen to ’em. You know I’m all alone now ‘cept for John and, of course, Neinni. Did I tell you I have an interview for a job at the mill on Tuesday? Mr. Watterson is seein’ me. I jest hope it works out.”

“Mary Alice, my dear, you already have so much on you. You shouldn’t worry yourself about this war and what’s gonna happen to our young boys. I’ll make a bet with ya that this war will be over by the time our boys have to be in the Army. Now, we both need to calm down a bit. I’m as upset as you, but we can’t do much right now. I need to git my radio on and find out what’s happenin’. I’ll call you tomorrow, or certainly by Tuesday, to find out how your interview went.”

Martha covered her sewing machine and walked down the stairs to turn on the Silvertone. The reports were coming in from several places across the Pacific, from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington. All the news sounded horrible to her. No sooner had she started to absorb the meaning of what she was hearing when James opened the side door.

The Jordan family spent supper time talking about the day’s news. They had conflicting stories as to what places had been bombed, how many men had been killed and how many ships sunk or damaged.  James and Martha, in trying to answer Jimmy’s questions, realized how little they knew about Japan and the Far East. They promised themselves to pay more attention to the news every day. Jimmy went to his room and read the chapters in his geography book on Japan, China and the Dutch East Indies. If Miss Ritt was going to talk on Monday about what happened today, he wanted to be prepared. Besides, he figured he’d be hearing a lot about these places from now on.

After washing the dishes Martha sat down to listen to Mrs. Roosevelt’s fifteen minute radio show. As always, the First Lady would say a few words about her work as the President’s wife. Martha, who was coming to admire this woman, did not care what some of their friends thought of Mrs. Roosevelt. James would want to listen to his shows starting atseven o’clock, but this was her time to have the radio. She dialed the station.

“The Pan American Coffee Bureau is proud to sponsor this fifteen minute program, Mrs. F. D. Roosevelt. And, now, here is the First Lady speaking from the White House.”

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history. The Cabinet is convening and the leaders in Congress are meeting with the President. The State Department and Army and Navy officials have been with the President all afternoon. In fact, the Japanese ambassador was talking to the President at the very time thatJapan’s airships were bombing our citizens inHawaiiand thePhilippinesand sinking one of our transports loaded with lumber on its way toHawaii.

By tomorrow morning the members of Congress will have a full report and be ready for action.

In the meantime, we the people are already prepared for action. For months now the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads and yet it seemed impossible to believe, impossible to drop the everyday things of life and feel that there was only one thing which was important—preparation to meet an enemy no matter where he struck. That is all over now and there is no more uncertainty.

We know what we have to face and we know that we are ready to face it.

I should like to say just a word to the women in the country tonight. I have a boy at sea on a destroyer, for all I know he may be on his way to the Pacific. Many of you all over the country have boys in the services who will now be called upon to go into action. You have friends and families in what has suddenly become a danger zone. You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart and yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears.

We must go on about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can and when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others, to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of theUnited States of America.

To the young people of the nation, I must speak a word tonight. You are going to have a great opportunity. There will be high moments in which your strength and your ability will be tested. I have faith in you. I feel as though I was standing upon a rock and that rock is my faith in my fellow citizens.

Now we will go back to the program we had arranged. . . .

Martha listened to the rest of the program as Mrs. Roosevelt interviewed a soldier.  She did not pay much attention to the interview but dwelled on what the First Lady had said about feeling anxious about the future and the sacrifices that everyone would have to make. She sat there in deep thought until James asked if he could change the station. She murmured a yes and walked to their bedroom, closed the door and began to weep.

Share Gittin’ Through: A Southern Town During World War II (9781426974366): Roy T. Matthews: Books Gittin’ Through: A Southern Town During World War II (9781426974366): Roy T. Matthews: Books.

On Amazon, we currently are selling both the hardcover and paperback versions.

The e-reader will be available soon.


Gittin’ Through: A Southern Town During World War II by Roy T. Matthews (2011):

Gittin’ Through: A Southern Town During World War II (Book) by Roy T. Matthews (2011):

The book is now available in the UK.


@MSU Newsletter | MSU Alumni Association

@MSU Newsletter | MSU Alumni Association.

A Town’s History During World War II

Author documents how a small, southern town coped with World War II.

    Roy Matthews, who was on the MSU faculty in humanities and history from 1965 to 1996, has written a new book—Gittin’ Through (Trafford, 2011) sets this turning point in American history in a small southern town where traditions, class and race defined its citizens and the roles they played. It shows how the three generations coped with the conflict while they made a living, reared their families, took care of the elderly, fell in love, lost loved ones, struggled to hold a marriage together, and chose right and wrong ways to profit from the war. Like all generations, they carried the burdens of the past into their own times in order to prepare for the future.  Matthews co-authored the popular college textbook, The Western Humanities (Vols. I and II).


Novel set in Franklin, circa WWII | The Tidewater News

Novel set in Franklin, circa WWII | The Tidewater News.

Published 9:55am Friday, September 23, 2011

Franklin native and retired Michigan State University professor Roy Matthews is in town to promote his new novel, “Gittin’ Through — A Southern Town during World War II.”

After speaking to the Franklin Rotary Club today, the 79-year-old will hold a book-signing from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Peanut Patch on Route 58 in Courtland. The 500-page hardback can be purchased for $34.95 or a paperback version for $24.95.

A 1949 graduate of Franklin High School, Matthews in his novel on World War II, starting with signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 through the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and beyond the end of the war in August 1945.

“Gittin’ Through” focuses on a small Southern town, namely Franklin, where traditions, class and race defined its residents and the roles they played.

The book does so by focusing on three generations.

“First of all, the parents who had to suffer through the Depression of the ’30s,” Matthews said. “The second generation is the children. We were 10 (in 1938), and it extends to 1945, when we are 17 and have gone through adolescence. It contains many examples of passing through adolescence.”

The third generation is those who fought in the war.

Matthews spent 10 years researching and writing the book. He used the Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Tidewater News for his research. He also read memoirs and diaries of Franklin residents of that era.

After retiring from Michigan State in 1996, Matthews and his wife, LeeAnn, moved to Washington, D.C.


GWEN ALBERS is managing editor of The Tidewater News. Her email address is




Gittin’ Through with Roy Matthews ’54 :: Washington and Lee University News

Gittin’ Through with Roy Matthews ’54 :: Washington and Lee University News.

Posted on August 22, 2011 by Jeff Hanna

Washington and Lee University Alumnus Roy Matthews recent book "Gittin' Through"Washington and Lee University Alumnus Roy Matthews’ recent book “Gittin’ Through”

Roy T. Matthews, emeritus professor of history at Michigan State University and a member of the Class of 1954, is the author of a new book, Gittin’ Through.

Published by Trafford Publishing, Gittin’ Through is subtitled A Southern Town During World War II. The book follows three generations whose lives were changed by the war: “The oldest generation, who had kicked up their heels in the Jazz Age and suffered through the Great Depression, adjusted to rationing and worried if their children would be sent to war. The youngest generation endured the traumas of adolescence while trying to sort out what the war meant to them. The middle generation anguished over their fate, left Madison to serve their country or remained on the home front.”

Roy, who grew up in Franklin, Va., is co-author of The Western Humanities, an award-winning, two-volume textbook. In 2002, Roy was one of 26 educators from around Michigan and the nation who won the Crystal Apple Awards sponsored by the Michigan State College of Education and the Richard Lee Featherstone Society.

Read more about Gittin’ Through at the publisher’s website.


Hitler’s options during the winter of ’41

This map, published just two months before Pearl Harbor, shows the octopus like image of the Nazis with tentacles reaching out across Europe—a connection made in the minds of many readers.  One Christmas my parents gave me a large wall map of the world with a set of straight pins and tiny maps of all the nations at war. I moved the map pins each week as the war fronts changed.

Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Sunday, October 12, 1941.



Here’s a popular song of the day… referenced in the novel.

Artie Shaw’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine became the standard rendition. Several singers recorded the song which became popular, but Shaw’s version was more danceable and his solo outstanding.  Listen and you can understand how the crowds wanted to dance to Shaw’s treatment of one of Porter’s most famous songs.


Car care during the war… An important statement about rubber in national defense.

Car care during the war -- Richmond TImes Dispatch Sept 28, 1941

Car care during the war -- Richmond TImes Dispatch Sept 28, 1941

Conserving gas and tires was a patriotic duty, and anyone not doing this was seen as not doing his or her part to win the war.  Family vacations by car and “Sunday” drives were suspended for the duration. This war was NOT going to be won by “going shopping” and spending money.