A Look Back at Wartime Pages of St. Anthony Messenger
By Barbara Beckwith


Different Magazine Then
Standing Like Heroes, Kneeling Like Saints
Sugarless Recipes and Frugal Patterns
Griping Turns to Gratitude


This expanded version of a sidebar featured in the September 2005 issue of
St. Anthony Messenger provides a detailed look at the magazine's articles, art and advertisements during World War II.

In December 1943, just four months after it happened, St. Anthony Messenger carried the story of then-Lt. (jg) John F. Kennedy and the ill-fated PT109. Written by John Maguire, “Eleven Against Death” tells how in the Pacific war U.S. PT boats (“the shifty lightweights of the Navy team”) would challenge Japanese destroyers delivering supplies and reinforcements to Japanese-held islands.

The boat under Kennedy’s command was rammed by a destroyer. Two crew members died immediately, but the bow section remained afloat. Kennedy himself rescued two crewmen from the sea and got them aboard the wreckage. Then he marshaled the surviving crew to swim to a nearby uninhabited island, with Kennedy towing one of the most injured men.

St. Anthony Messenger - December 1943On three successive nights, Kennedy swam out into the waters of Ferguson Passage, which is between Gizo and Wanawawa Islands of the New Georgia group, trying to shout to any PT boats that might be out on patrol, but to no avail. On the fourth night another of his crew tried also, but no contact was made. After all the coconuts were eaten on their very small island, Kennedy ordered a move to a larger island nearby.

When two natives in a canoe came by, Kennedy asked them to take a message carved on a green coconut husk. Two days later, other natives came by with food and medical supplies. That night the Navy rescued them, ending their weeklong ordeal.

The story ends: “Mark his name down for still greater things after the war.”

How did our magazine end up with this story? That issue doesn’t contain a clue. Another issue has a little biographical information about the author, a frequent contributor to the magazine: John McGuire was a soldier from New York State, one of five regular contributors to the magazine serving in the armed forces.

But historian Daniel I. Hurley, who worked on the magazine’s 100th anniversary issue and is now vice president for history at Museum Center in Cincinnati, notes that Joseph P. Kennedy, who had been President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambassador to England in the pre-war years, had a very efficient public relations staff. He was already campaigning to catapult his sons into public life, perhaps the U.S. presidency. Most likely, his PR folks “leaked” JFK’s story to outlets like this magazine because it was (and is) Catholic (like the Kennedys) and then reached 230,000 readers.

Different Magazine Then

In those days, St. Anthony Messenger carried no news summaries, letters to the editor or formal editorials, although the editor, Father Hyacinth Blocker, O.F.M., wrote a column, positioned next to the table of contents, which occasionally commented on world events.

St. Anthony Messenger - June 1943The St. Anthony Messengers of 1941 to 1945 generally would have four-six short articles, three-five fictional stories (sustained by frequent short-story contests), five-six poems (scattered on different pages), seven columns and five-six features. All were much shorter than the magazine carries today. The type was smaller, as were the illustrations. Issues ran 48-64 pages, depending on advertising; today’s magazine is 56-60 pages, but has approximately the same size page. The quality of the paper during the war years was poor and the volumes are now quite fragile.

St. Anthony Messenger - February 1945The war crept into—and eventually began to dominate—all of the magazine’s regular offerings. Covers and advertisements (including many to buy war bonds) were not immune, either. And during the last two years of the war, honor rolls of those who died defending our country were published, with names submitted by readers and offered for prayer.


Standing Like Heroes, Kneeling Like Saints

In 1985, Studs Terkel, a Chicago radio personality and social historian, published his book of oral histories of participants in World War II, The Good War, which won the Pulitzer Prize. After that, people began referring to WWII as “the last good war.”

In retrospect, WWII was different from Korea and Vietnam (and even more recent military endeavors like the Gulf War, Afghanistan and now Iraq) in that its purpose was clear: smashing Nazism and Fascism and, after Pearl Harbor, retaliating against those who had attacked us. It was perceived like a morality play of good versus evil.

St. Anthony Messenger - May 1944It seemed like a “just war” and had the nearly total support of American citizens. Young men flocked to enlist in the armed services, even bulking up or slimming down to meet the physical requirements. Women entered the new services just for them (WACs, WAVEs and SPARs), enrolled in nursing programs to be part of the war effort, and worked in defense plants. Most people were willing to put their lives on hold for the duration of the war.

All families earnestly followed the war news, and kept maps which traced where their loved ones might be. (Families did not know with certainty because letters back home were censored with many locations being snipped or blocked out, so they would not inadvertently give information to the enemy.) Americans relearned geography, with places like Anzio, Iwo Jima and the Aleutian Islands. Families proudly put stars in windows to remember those in the service. If someone died, the star was changed to gold.

Service men and women wrote home of ordinary experiences, like playing baseball alongside professional ballplayers, and dangerous activities, like driving jeeps loaded with explosives over rough mountain roads at night. But they rarely wrote of actual fighting, saving that for their nightmares and what was then called “battle fatigue,” now “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“Sacrifice” was the mantra of the times, with gas and food rationing. The fact that the war resulted in unambiguous victory for the Allies made it seem a very “good” war.

That total support for the war, without forgetting that the enemy were also children of God, was reflected in the pages of St. Anthony Messenger. As most of America did, the magazine pretty much ignored the war in Europe from 1939 to 1941. But everything changed after they heard the radio reports of Pearl Harbor being attacked and saw newspaper and newsreel photos of the USS Arizona burning.

In February 1942 (the first opportunity to react, given the magazine’s lead time) Father Hyacinth titled his column, “Strike!” He wrote:

“For years we Americans have been the patient anvil bearing the blows of a belligerent behemoth seeking to conquer and dominate the world. Because we wanted to peace, we tolerated many of the barbarities of the Axis triumvirate, hoping that each new act of unjustifiable aggression upon smaller and weaker nations would be the last.

“We have been tricked by their dishonest diplomacy and fooled by their lying promises. The Axis monster, like a gigantic octopus, has stretched out its tentacles to encircle and crush our universe.

“Our days of being the patient anvil are past. We must now be the driving hammer. We must strike, boldly, fearlessly, with all the accumulated energy of a mighty nation, careless of the cost, vowed to victory. Pearl Harbor and Wake Island and Manila must be avenged. As long as red blood and white fervor and blue courage are the colors that stain our American flag, we will fight and not flinch, strike and not surrender.

“For all of us there is something to do, whether we shoulder a gun or wrap bandages in the comfort of our homes….

“We will fight this war both standing up like heroes and kneeling down like saints. A hammer can not only pound away at Japanese tanks and bombing planes and battleships, but also batter down the gates of heaven. We must be such hammers of prayer….In [God’s] name we will conquer!”

By May of 1942 there was short story, “Jump for Your Uncle” by George E. Magee, about a rich and pampered draftee who preferred garbage detail to parachute training—until he wanted to impress a girl, the captain’s daughter, and volunteered.

St. Anthony Messenger - May 1942And in that issue we advertised a full-color “Patriotic Picture,” featuring Jesus, a Bible, a candle and the American flag for $1.25. It’s next to a space filler that simply says “Buy Defense Bonds *and Stamps*.”

The Franciscan Missionary Union had an ad that promoted enrolling “your soldier son or sailor fiance” in the Franciscan Mass Association so that he could share in the 3,000 daily Masses said by Franciscans. Enrollees would also receive a blessed medal of Our Lady of Grace and a picture of “Mary, Protector of Our Men in Service,” which was that month’s cover.

Sugarless Recipes and Frugal Patterns

St. Anthony Messenger - July 1942By June 1942, St. Anthony Messenger was carrying “Priests in Khaki,” an interview with three Catholic chaplains who “know what it is to hear a bullet zing past one’s ear,” an ad for a booklet on how to recognize ranks by army or navy insignia, and sewing patterns (“Be patriotic! Sew Your Own!”) that used as little material as possible but were also modest.

During the war years, the recipe column featured sugarless cake and pie recipes. At one point it even solicited “best potato recipes” since meat was rationed.

An article by Ruth Vincent Nowack in August 1942 describes how an “Air-Vu” machine, which simplifies the reading of blueprints, came to be invented by a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus from Denver healing from a broken leg (“When eclipse comes to the Land of the Rising Sun, we’ll have to thank Dan McQuaid whose invention is speeding up production in our war plants”).

The magazine highlighted unique Franciscan contributions to the war effort. August 1942 contained a feature by Agnellus Lammert, O.F.M., “War Complicates the Indian Missionary’s Work,” about how Franciscan missionaries were helping the national registration for the draft by looking up old baptismal records in New Mexico and Arizona.

“Give ’Em Wings,” by John McGuire, describes St. Bonaventure’s College’s civilian pilot training program and its coordinator, Franciscan Father Celsus Wheeler, O.F.M., who was also the squadron commander of the Civil Air Patrol for Olean and vicinity.

St. Anthony Messenger - July 1943A short story by Mep Ellis in September 1942, concerns a “U.S.O. Sweetheart”: “Elsie played no favorites. She loved them all—soldiers, sailors, flyers, and marines. Only one person knew there was method in her madness.” Ellis was in the Domestic Wing of the U.S. Air Forces Ferry Command. He also wrote “Firecrackers for Hitler,” for the July 1943 issue about “a Yankee and a Tommy” celebrating the Fourth of July “in a hair-raising sortie” involving ramming a Focke-Wulf plane and being shot down.

October 1942 had an article by John J. O’Connor on how the Dutch bishops had opposed the Nazis and were persecuted for it. And May 1943 carried an article by Mathilda Rose McSoren about the Catholic Poles and Czechs flying for the RAF, who remember the crimes against their countrymen. April 1944 featured an article, ”Poland: A Moral Issue,” by William Henry Chamberlin, who had spent 18 years as a foreign correspondent. These and other articles like the one on the Statue of Liberty, “Worth Fighting For,” by Eugene Gluckert, kept reminding readers why the war had to be won.

November 1942 was a special issue, “Everyone Can Help Win This War,” with a cover of five-year-old boys playing draft-board physical.

Fiction stories concern brave and lonesome soldiers, sailors, pilots and the women they left behind, defense plant workers, the struggles of the 4-Fs—all with lots of romance thrown in, as was the style of the times. “South Pacific Interlude,” by Elsie Briggs, in June 1944 raises the ethical question, “What would you do, alone in a rubber lifeboat with two Japs directly responsible for sinking your ship?”

Stories about refugees start appearing, like that of Father Luigi Sciochetti, an Italian refugee from Fascism, who brought his art talents to San Francisco in February 1943, and Benedictine sisters who emigrated from Bavaria to Colorado because of Hitler.

Even poetry dealt with the war, referring to “Unbridled winds of war…madly blowing” (“There Will Always Be Christmas, by Nancy Buckley, December 1943), and directed “To One Away (at Christmas),” by Gladys McKee (December 1944).

St. Anthony Messenger - March 1944Women were never forgotten in these years. Victory gardens are subject of the March 1943 and 1944 covers. That 1943 issue also contains an article from the U.S. Office of War Information about the critical need for nurses. And the May (“Mother’s Day) cover features a “Wartime Madonna,” a young mother rides her toddler in a basket attached to the handlebars of her bike, both wearing helmets. In September 1943, “Valiant Women,” by Capt. Louise Edna Goeden, explains WACs and what they do.

St. Anthony Messenger - July 1943 Father Hyacinth’s column in that issue reminds readers of the value of devotion to Mary even for those “hiding in foxholes in Africa and New Guinea” because she brought to this world “a Redeemer who is also the Prince of Peace.”

The story of the Catholic poet Joyce Kilmer, who died in France during World War I is retold in the July 1943 issue, by Will Faherty, S.J.

“Nazi Closeup,” by Arthur Juntunen, in July 1944 is a firsthand report on a prisoner of war camp in the woods of northern Michigan.

Griping Turns to Gratitude

In the June 1944 issue, the month of the Normandy invasion, Editor Father Hyacinth chided readers for the “silly griping we hear today. Perhaps nerves are taut and touchy and tattered by the war, but the fussy grumbling and growling spirit abroad in the land certainly isn’t solving the problems confronting us.”

By September 1944 the cover asked “Will Christ Have a Voice in Post-War Planning?” In November 1944 Father Hyacinth pointed out, “…how we personally come out of this war will, in the major part, be of our own choosing and making.”

That issue contained a short story, “The Gun Sang Alleluia,” by Michael V. Simko, about “How the memory of a fallen comrade turned an American into a one-man army on the loose.”

By March 1945, the question was “How Long Can the Japanesee Hold Out?,” by H.G. Quaritch Wales. And in August 1945, the very month the atomic bombs were used, that same author had an article, “We’re Ready to Invade Japan.” And unfortunately, there seems to have been little questioning of the U.S.’s decision to use the A-bomb in the immediate post-war issues. (There was much, later.)

May 1945 had an article about the organization Catholic War Veterans, which helped returning servicemen readjust to civilian life. And the November 1945 cover story was of a young couple (he still in uniform) with the words, “Home for Keeps.”

In November 1945 a short article by Chaplain John J. Ryan gives the last word on the war, “Add Up Six Thanksgivings,” recalling the war years. It concludes: “Let us never forget that each moonless night over London five years ago guaranteed us this day now, each favorable tide in the China seas, each miraculous escape and rescue, each life saved then, each life given then gave us this day now, and that His heaven is filled with the fine young men we mourn….

“Thank Him for their courage in war; ask Him to give us courage as great in peace that we may build a better, a happier world.”


Barbara Beckwith is the managing editor of this publication. She is the daughter of an Army veteran who fought in the South Pacific.

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