– Lillian Fong (1925–1997)

This is reprinted from the 8 May 1985 issue of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner commemoration of the 40th anniversary of VE Day. Lillian was a CHSSC Board Member and also with the Friends of the Chinatown Library. Lillian’s two brothers, Mon Sing “Monte” Fong and Mon White “Fay” Fong served in the Navy and Army Air Corps respectively.

I was a schoolgirl attending school in Los Angeles when World War II broke out. When I first heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, I could not believe it.

My first job after graduation was in a sewing factory which was close to my home. I worked five days a week from 7:30 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon. Later, like a lot of Chinese girls, I went to work for the U.S. Civil Service. We worked for the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Terminal Island, San Pedro. I made more money since I worked six days a week, eight hours a day.

I especially remember going to the Ration Board to get ration books for the family. With the stamps in the books, we bought shoes, butter, meat, cheese, sugar, and other scarce commodities. I would wait in line to get cigarettes for my uncle. To get nylon stockings, I would also have to wait in line, or try to get them in the black market. There were times when items—toilet paper, milk, bread, chocolate bars, cooking oil, soap, coffee, etc.—were hard to get.

During the war, it was considered patriotic to plant Victory Gardens in your yard. Mine was a flop. It was a lot of hard work, and the birds and bugs kept eating the seeds.

Sometimes, there were blackouts. A warden would come around to see if there were any lights that could be seen from outside the house.

There was a scarcity of cars, washing machines, stoves, refrigerators, roller skates, and anything made of metal because of the war. Rubber, too, was scarce, and there was no elastic whatsoever. I remember gathering up rubber items and taking them to a gasoline station where it was being collected. Instead of rubber bands, people used Scotch tape.

The government told us not to travel unless it was necessary. The transportation system was for the use of the servicemen traveling from their bases to home on leave and back. The transportation system was inadequate for the use of both war effort and civilians taking vacations. Most people abided by the government rules concerning travel.

Since people could not travel or buy things such as cars and washing machines, they used their money to purchase war bonds starting with $18.75 for a bond worth $25 in 10 years. I remember getting paid twice a month and the government took $6.25 a paycheck. After three paychecks, I was entitled to a bond. Some stores that sold war bonds gave free things away such as movie theater tickets, President Roosevelt pictures, Norman Rockwell pictures or paintings, and coupons to have your picture taken. I am happy to report that all my family survived World War II, both on the home front and in the service.

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Photo by Steve Miller.