Grace Zuna (Women in World War II)


Grace (Lambert) Zuna was born on September 11, 1931, in Lemoyne Pennsylvania. Her parents were both born in Cumberland County and she was one of seven children. During World War II, Mrs. Zuna attended grade school and helped raise money for war bonds, collected cans through Girl Scouts, and baby-sat for women who were working during the war. Mrs. Zuna had a brother who was in World War II. After the war, she was graduated from Lemoyne High School, married and went to work for the phone company where she remained for 33 ½ years until she took early retirement. She then took a position as the operator at the editorial department of the Harrisburg Patriot-News where she worked for nine years. She is currently retired and lives in New Cumberland where she enjoys reading material on World War II.


Grace Zuna began by talking about how, as a child in grade school all she heard about was Hitler and how she did not know why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She then continued by discussing how and why she got involved collecting tin cans during the war and how the whole neighborhood helped out with the war effort through such activities as collecting jewelry and digging gardens. Next, she described how the junior high and high school lost many male teachers during the war and how there were no new textbooks. She also discussed how women used leg paint instead of silk pantyhose, her family’s victory garden, and her mother’s canning to preserve vegetables.

She then talked in details about her experiences baby-sitting for working mothers, including specifics about pay, who she sat for, and when she sat. She continued by discussing civil defense activities in her neighborhood, what a black out was like, and how her older sister got a job at the Navy Depot in Mechanicsburg. She also mentioned her family’s reaction to her brother leaving for military service. Next, she told a few stories of draft dodgers and her experiences doing war activities with the Girl Scouts. She then discussed V-E and V-J day and how she and her sister were not allowed to go into town. She then commented on how World War II attitudes about and opportunities for working women. She then finished with a remembrance of how her school sold war bonds and when they raised enough money a “V” was put on the classroom doors.


The following transcription is based on a tape-recorded interview that is available from the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The project’s intent in transcribing the interview was to create a clean, readable text with out sacrificing the original language. Because written English differs from original language, the project adopted conventions to deal with the variations. No words have been added or changed, and no changes have been made in grammar or sentence structure. Words or short phrases added to clarify text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, description of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, have been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as “you know” or “um.” The transcription does not include language from the interviewer that is purely procedural (such as references to turning over the tape) or language that repeats or rephrases a question. No attempt was made to preserve the dialect or pronunciations of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested on those aspects of the interview. (Based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War Two Oral History Project)

Heather Egan: Can you tell me a little about what you were doing before the war began?

Grace Zuna: Before the war began the war was over in Europe. When we were

growing up, that’s all we heard, actually we weren’t really able to comprehend and know what was going on in the world. That’s all we heard was Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. I mean, we grew up with that! And then when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, of course, I didn’t know why the Japanese--what their trouble was, what their cause was because I was only ten years old. I just couldn’t understand. Why would Japanese, why would they bomb? Well, nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was, when they said it was Hawaii, then it was understood where it was.

Then the next day we went to school, I was in the fourth grade, everything was just…we didn’t do anything for a couple of days, all we did was talk of all this and stuff. Now we were only in fourth grade. We didn’t know too much about what was going on. We heard of these, the Philippines and stuff, and then they said about the Philippines and Manila, and I thought, “Well, that’s not near Hawaii is it?” But I didn’t want to act dumb and ask anybody so I just pretended I knew. [laughs] But then, when they declared war on Japan and then we found out more about it. Then, I guess it was January when they declared war on Germany, I think it was January. Then we really got in it. Then I remember getting up on Saturday morning, and we always got the morning paper, then a big head line, “Tokyo Bombed.” Then when I watched that movie Destination Tokyo, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it or not, it’s a good movie, and here it’s about the sub that when in underneath in Tokyo Bay and was setting up thing for this, for that [James “Jimmy” H.] Doolittle on his raid on Tokyo1, then they had left the carrier and went in. No, that was 30 Seconds over Tokyo, when they had the aircraft carrier and them all coming over.

So then we had to get involved in it and they started rationing sugar and they told us all the stuff we needed and I remember back at Manback’s [bakery] they had Red Cross-set up and we went back and said we wanted to help and whatever we could do to help, they told us, well just go out and do this thing, and go help your neighbors and people that need help that are working--cause a lot of women went to work. I mean they worked on the railroad and they worked in the steel plants and they took over men’s jobs and that’s really when women went out and to see what was going on. We had, they also needed tin cans (?) well we had all the tin cans, well we open them up and smash them down then some of our neighbors would give us their tin cans and my dad was a carpenter--he built houses and stuff--and he had one of these stompers that they stomped the ground down in them. So he got his stomper out and we stomped these cans down with this stomper because it was easier because--we had loads of cans because our neighbors gave them to us because we could handle them.

We helped people and I babysat for people, we watched kids after we got home from school because their parents were both working or the mother was working and the father was in the service, or something. We went to the grocery store for people. My brother he helped people dig gardens, and we helped some of these older people who couldn’t handle their gardens. So my sisters and I, we used to go up and we used to hoe the garden. [laughs] Did different things like that because I had read where people grew-- what percentage of food that they grew in their gardens--and [otherwise] there wouldn’t have been food to eat. And we walked wherever we went.

The ration books, that’s something I got a story I got to tell you about that. Everything was rationed, and when I came there were seven of us kids, now my mother and my father had nine ration books and that was a lot of ration. Of course we needed a lot of food, too, but I went to the store, here I guess it was the day before the stamps ran out, they were only good for so long, and I got some meat. So I just took the book up and they used to take the stamps out and a couple of people seen all these meat stamps, and they said, “Whose books are they?” [laughs] Because we had all this meat because my mother had nine books, and my mother was real conservative with what we made because of the depression and all and everything. Shoes were rationed, that’s the only way they could hold it. Oh and coffee and sugar and that kind of stuff. As kids we went, for entertainment we went to the museum in Harrisburg, and we’d walk across the bridge after Sunday dinner and [after we] cleaned up everything, we used to go for walks. I think we went to the museum in Harrisburg once a month. [laughs] I could take people on tours and it’s funny because a girl from Lemoyne that I got to know years later, she’s from Steelton and she says, “Oh, we used to walk up the museum,” and I said, “So did we.” I said, “I probably seen you there.” [laughs]

We baby-sat for people, we did anything we could really to help. And this lady up the street--we had a phone because my dad was a carpenter and stuff, he needed it for worked at the steel plant, but still somebody needed something--she used to send us to the grocery store. So, I guess that’s all I can think of right now. I tried to write down things.

Oh, we had old jewelry, we collected old jewelry cause they needed that for the metal. They needed everything they could for the metal. They wanted anything they could get a hold of because they needed it. You stop and you think, it was a stand still. I mean it had to be worked. Our United States they saved the world, they really did because they didn’t take long when they went in.[laughs] And that’s about all I can think of right now of what we did.

HE: Where there any changes in the people who were teaching? Such as like did a lot of male teachers leave to enlist in the war?

GZ: Well see I was in grade school, so we didn’t have any male teachers, but I know in the high school, in the junior high and the high school they did, because when I got into ninth grade, was in 1946, and a lot of them had come back, so I had a lot of them who had come back from the service.

HE: And how did your education change during the war. Like you said, when Pearl Harbor was…

GZ: Well we didn’t have any new textbooks, we used old textbook. They didn’t have any new textbooks we used the old books that they had. Because they weren’t worried about printing textbooks, they were worried about getting that other mess attended to.

HE: Where there things you and your family wanted to buy but couldn’t, such as like sugar or pantyhose?

GZ: We didn’t have pantyhose. Oh and that’s another too is, they didn’t have any. Dupont came out with--they used to be all silk hose, but then they couldn’t get the silk, and it’s funny how when they need something man these companies can come up with it, researchers can come up with it fast, well they came up with nylon fast. They didn’t have any nylon hose, you couldn’t buy hose. So I’ll tell you what they did. They came out with this stuff called “leg paint” and they painted their legs, and we put this leg paint. That’s when they came out and started shaving your legs cause you put that on, why it looked ridiculous to see your legs with this pant with this leg paint on it and you had hairs on your legs. So that’s when they started to shave their legs, because nobody shaved their legs before that. [laughs]

I subscribed to that Reminisce magazine, and once and a while they have some old--and they did have one in there of leg paint and I showed it to some of my girl friends and we just sat and laughed. And some of these kids can’t believe they put this leg paint on. In school, the color guard and the twirlers, well they could anything to wear, so they put leg paint on so it made their legs look nice. [laughs] I guess there was a lot of that.

Well I tell you, my parents bought a new electric refrigerator before the war, but people without it, it didn’t bother them that they didn’t want it, because they were used to not having it, that was it.

HE: Did you and your family have a victory garden?

GZ: Oh yes. Uh huh.

HE: What did you grow?

GZ: Green beans, my dad loved green beans. Well we grew everything. We liked garden lettuce, make a salad with it. Then my mother would put something in it, and put these green beans in. And anyway, then she’d can them in these two-quart jars, and for me, in it, my mother would buy bacon on the slab--well that’s how they used to sell it all--and then she’d have the end and she have the bottom of it, and then that’s how she cooked the green beans because they couldn’t get ham. They put that in and cooked it and put potatoes in it. And my mother used to can the green beans in two-quart jars, and naturally we had tomatoes, and red beets, and what people like, carrots and red beets and stuff like that.

HE: What else, did you can all your food? Like you said from your victory garden…

GZ: Yeah she canned. We had tomatoes, so she canned tomatoes, and we used to buy corn because she didn’t have that much for corn. Then they would can and put corn in with the tomatoes and then they had that for vegetable soup.

HE: When you babysat, did you charge anything?

GZ: Yeah, they gave you a quarter, fifty cents, enough to go the movies. I used to baby-sit for this one little girl, her mother worked until 8:00-8:30 and after school she used to go to a relatives house and then at 6 o’clock I went and picked her up and took her home until her mother came home from work. And she’d give me fifty cents or something like that. It was enough money, you know, for if you wanted to go to the movies, whatever you wanted to do.

HE: What types of families did you baby-sit for? Such as like women who were in the work force or just people that…

GZ: Women--most of them they were in the work force and their husbands were in the service. Like after school, like if their kids went to school and needed somebody to tend to them or both kids were off from school for the day a lot of times they would just come to our house and play with my sisters and stuff like that.

HE: Did you baby-sit before the war?

GZ: No, because I was only ten years old. At home I helped baby-sit at home.

HE: That’s different, those are your siblings.

GZ: You’re right.

HE: You were saying how when you were collecting tin cans how like your next-door neighbors would give you cans and everything, how else did your community change? Was there a lot of Red Cross or civilian services or anything like that sprouting around in your community?

GZ: Yeah, they had the air raid wardens, when we had an air raid drill, then the air raid wardens would walk around make sure everyone had their lights out, and you never knew when they were going to come. You’d hear the sirens and I think you had ten minutes to get your lights out and get your radios--well sometimes you’d have a radio and you weren’t supposed to see any light at all. Well, sometimes some people had their radio on and then they would cover it up, the back of it up, because the light would show through the back and they would cover it up.

HE: Did any of your other family members participate in any war effort

activities? Like maybe older sibling were in the Red Cross or anything like that?

GZ: My sister, my oldest sister, I don’t know what she did, but she wanted to quit school and she wanted to go the Navy Depot and get a job. So she quit school, and my dad didn’t know she quit school for about a week [laughs] because my dad did not like quitting school. My mother let her go and she went, and I remember he told her she was working part-time at a five and ten, like Saturdays and after school or whatever, and when he found it out he says, “You’re not going to be working in the five and ten,” and she says, “I went up to the Navy Depot, I’m starting next week!” [laughs] My oldest brother, he went into the service.

HE: How did your family react to your brother going off to the war?

GZ: [pause] I mean they, I guess they were nervous, but my dad was in World War I, so he realized hey, this is something we’ve got to do and everybody else is doing it. And you didn’t like to be a draft dodger. Oh no, no way. If you weren’t going into the service, everybody was wondering, “Why isn’t he going?” I mean I was just a kid but I remember, “Why isn’t he going?” Like the man up the street from us, his father had a farm, and he just owned a bakery. So what did he do, he went to the farm and worked so he didn’t have to go in the service. But what made everybody mad is, see he owned this house see and he rented his house out, but when the war was over, he’s back. [laughs] And my neighbor, where I lived before I moved here, she came from a farm and her husband was not a farmer, he worked at the steel plant. Well, when the war broke out, because he would have been drafted, she says, “Oh we moved back up to the farm,” and I said, “Yea I know why you moved back up to the farm.” [laughs] Then she wanted to move out, Bill says he told me, she wanted to move out back in town after, and he says, “I wouldn’t go.” He wouldn’t go and he stayed there, I guess, for fifteen years after the war was over, until he moved in town. He told me, he says, “I wasn’t doing it. I moved up there because she wanted me to.”

HE: Did you participate in any other activities during the war?

GZ: I was in Girl Scouts, and we did thing there for the war effort for Girl Scouts. I don’t remember what all we did, the tins cans, well we took the tin cans to school and each homeroom was trying to say who had the most, bring in the most tin cans. [laughs]

HE: Did you remember V-E and V-J day?

GZ: Oh I remember V-J day because my sister and I, and they dropped these bombs you know, the atomic bombs. We wanted to go into town to see the Senate Theater to see, I think it was Bud Abbot and Lou Costello show, and we were hurrying up and getting the dishes done so we could get up the street and get the seven o’clock bus in town and we were hurrying. I think, Lowell Thomas was on; my dad always listened on the radio to Lowell Thomas and when he announced that the war was over, and he says, “You’re not going in town.” I said “Why?” He said, “You’re not going in town.” [laughs] So we weren’t allowed to go, he says, “Mommy and I are going.” My mother says “What?” she says, “We’re going in town!” So they never went out too much, but they did, they even walked to town because, you weren’t going to be able to get the bus and you weren’t even going to get a bus into town because of all the traffic going into town. So I know it was just lucky, if we would’ve left--if they would’ve announced this ten, five minutes later--my sister and I would have been on the bus in town. That’s why I’ll never forget V-J day. [Laughs] Then Truman gave the work force--they gave them two days off. Everybody in the country had two days off work.

HE: How do you feel that, how do you feel World War II changed your life? Do you feel that it did, or being a young child was it just kind of a learning experience?

GZ: Really I guess it was a learning experience, but it did change the ways of the country and a lot of things that were important, weren’t important. I don’t know how to say it. It changed a lot. It changed a lot, I think with women, men with women. Oh, my husband and I we were down in Washington five six years ago, six years ago or something, and we rode one of those trams that take you around you know, and on the cherry blossom time, and this guide, this women was on there, and she said about how they were going to cut down some trees on this ridge and two women tied themselves to these trees. ; She says, “This was back in 1943, I can’t imagine, women would do this in 1943.” And it so happened she had older people on the tram and she said “What did women do back in 1943?” and you should have heard, the men were the loudest. He said, “The war was on, these women worked in defense plants, they did this, they did.” She shut up because she didn’t know it. And I couldn’t imagine that somebody that was a tour guide in Washington, they didn’t know what women did. That’s when women started driving buses and more women got drivers license and stuff like that. When I was a kid I heard, “Oh a woman driver,” “Oh a woman driver,” [laughs], “Oh these women” [laughs]. I said some of these older people would be dying to see them driving these tractor-trailers today. I mean that’s what really changed, it changed the men’s outlook on women because they didn’t think women were supposed to be doing it--women were supposed to be home. It really did help women, it really did.

HE: Did you notice that in your community, like a lot of women going off to work? Was it a positive response, like your neighborhood and everything or was it kind of “Oh they shouldn’t be working” or anything like that?

GZ: No, not really. See I worked, I started working for the telephone company when I graduated high school, so I was there for thirty-three and a half years. Then when they had the divestiture in 1983, well I had to either go to AT&T to work or else they gave us early incentive retirements, so I took it. So then I thought well I was only fifty-two years old, and I thought well I have to go look for a part-time job because if something would happen to my husband that’s all I would have would be my retirement from the phone company. So I went and I got a part-time job working at the Patriot News, so then they asked me if I wanted to work full-time, so I worked in the editorial department, I was their telephone operator. So I worked that full-time for nine years, and then I figured, “Hey I’ve had it I’m tired of all the running.” So it really did affect with women in the work force, because there’s a lot of jobs, especially with the phone company, there’s a lot of jobs that men had that women took over during the war and women just kept up with those jobs.

HE: So your neighborhood was kind of positive when the women went off, it wasn’t you know…

GZ: Right, mmhmm. Oh right, mmhmm. Oh yeah, right, mmhmm. Well this one girl that I worked with, she had two children and her husband went off to war, to the service, and she moved back home and her mother went out and got a job and her mother never worked, but her mother went out. And she stayed home then and she took care of the house and took care of her kids, while her mother went out to work. So that I mean, they did a lot. ; Some of these women, and the girls that I worked with, oh they could tell you the stories how if they wanted to get married and they went down. And this one girl says, “I can’t believe I did this, she said I only had fifty dollars with me.” And my neighbor up in Lemoyne, she says she told me that her husband wanted to get married and he wanted her to come down and I think she went down to Texas and she got married, and she’s a very a meek person and she says “Gracie, I don’t believe I did that. I still can’t believe I did that. Get on a train a went to Texas, Fred and I got married.” [Laughs]

HE: Just being ten years old, did you feel like you were contributing to the war effort? You know with your victory gardens and collecting cans?

GZ: Yeah, we did and the tin cans, we were doing everything. As I said we’d baby-sit if we had some, and then we’d buy defense stamps and they would buy a ten-cent defense stamps and you put it in the book. Then when you had $18.75 then you would have to trade it in then you could get a bond. So we used to have to save our money that way buying these stamps.

HE: What’s a defense stamp?

GZ: The called them defense stamps, it was a, I think they might have had some for a quarter, too, but they were ten cents and when you had $18.75 in it, then you could go and you could get a $25.00--well they called them a war bond--and you’d get a war bond out of it.

HE: So how did you get this, did you buy them or with your babysitting money?

GZ: Yeah with our babysitting money, we’d buy a couple of stamps. Oh and we sold them at school. I think for every five dollars we used to put a big “V” on the door, and we made a big “V” [laughs] I mean anything to help and ; ; give the kids incentive and realize what we were doing and what was going on and all that kind of stuff.

HE: Ok well thank you very much for your time.

GZ: Oh sure.

[end of interview]

[1] The so-called “Doolittle Raid” led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle was the first strategic bombing of Japan by U.S. forces. On April 18, 1942, sixteen twin-engine B-25 bombers flew off the carrier U.S.S. Hornet and dropped sixteen tons of bombs on the Japanese mainland. The bombs did little damage but provided a psychological boost in the battle against Japan.

Heather Egan, "Grace Zuna, June 11, 2002," in the Elizabeth V. and George F. Gardner Digital Library,, (accessed Month Day, Year).

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