Biography of James F. Justin

Pvt. B Co., 3rd Inf. Regt., N.J. State Guard

West Orange, NJ

     As the War in Europe grew in intensity, my Father, James Frederick Justin decided with a friend that they should join the New Jersey State Guard.  The State Guard was not the National Guard, though its officers were members of the National Guard. The State Guard was a State only organization which had existed since at least 1916 (I have papers indicating acts of Congress regarding the State Guard from that time frame) and through a date after 1942.  Its purpose was basically the same as the National Guard, providing local security, probably disaster assistance and riot control.  It was I believe primarily designed to supplement the role of the Guard and to replace it in times when the Guard was Nationalized.

     My Father enlisted with the Guard on July 10, 1941.  After that he went to weekend training sessions much like any other Guard or Reserve member.  During the week he continued with his normal job and took care of his infant son and pregnant Wife.

     December 7th, 1941 was an important day for my Dad, his second son, Robert, was coming home from the Hospital! My Dad was on his way out to the car to pick up my Mom and brother when a neighbor asked him from her porch if he had heard the news.  That was how my Dad learned about Pearl Harbor.  He drove the car into the garage door.

     The State Guard activated and my Dad had to leave his job and family for the moment.  At that time the country was in a bit of a hysteria and many seemed to think the enemy would be here any minute.  The powers that be certainly did because they started stringing barbed wire on the beaches in places and placed Guards on many points of concern, arms factories, railroads, bridges, tunnels and so on, many of which were in New Jersey which was thick with military, munitions and armaments facilities and transportation systems.  Indeed, over the course of the war German Saboteurs did come ashore some being caught and and some doing damage while others no doubt acted as spies.  One of the guards looking out for such saboteurs was my Dad, who wound up spending his nights standing in the Meadowlands somewhere guarding a railroad tunnel (or bridge I forget).

     One night a metallic clanging noise come from the darkness and my Dad calls out Halt!  He gets no response, and calls again once or twice more. Still nothing.  My Dad then fired a shot into the air, resulting in an even louder clanging noise and the sound of running feet.  The next morning my Dad ventured out and found abandoned metal traps laying on the tracks, like to hunt small animals.  My Dad guessed it was a local, probably one of the poor immigrants in area, who was out trapping muskrats to sell.  He probably didn't have a permit or just didn't speak English.  He probably scared the pants off him when that gun went off.

     In the meantime my Mom was having the rug pulled out from under her by the landlord.  They had a real nice apartment, but the landlord was afraid that with Dad being activated that my father would go off to war and the landlord would be stuck not being able to raise the rent or evict Mom if Dad couldn't meet the rent on his service pay. He decided therefore, to use the damaged garage door from Pearl Harbor day as an excuse and evicted my Mom and brothers.  She was mad but wasn't much that could be done about it.  It was funny when she moved out because the people moving in were her cousins.  They hadn't planned it that way and neither said anything to the landlord to avoid any hassles.  My Mom got another apartment but after that it was never anything as nice, not till long after the war due to housing shortages.

     My Dad served in the Guard for about four months, leaving at the end of April 1942. He had been 3A at enlistment because of his wife and kids, but the Guard decided to honorably discharge him for business reasons because of his job at Crucible Steel.  Crucible Steel was a big arms producer and they decided that my Dad's job there was more important than guarding bridges or being sent to the regular army.

     My Father's job at Crucible Steel involved the making of bombs and shells.  I think he was a lathe worker, cutting the rough casing into shell form with a driving band groove.  Before the war they had already made a great number of shells for export to the English under Lend Lease, 3.1 inch and 4.7 I think.  They also built shells for the United States, both Army and Navy, including the big sixteen inch battleship shells.

     The work included placing into the shell the driving band, that copper ring which expands into the rifling of the barrel and gives the shell spin for stability and accuracy.  On occassion they would get bombs to put driving bands into so that they could be taken down to Aberdeen and fired from cannons to test their capabilities.

    In addition to his work at the factory, my Dad became the local air warden, or whatever the exact title was.  He would go around making sure everyone maintained blackout.  Although this struck me as funny whjen I first heard it, this was actually very necessary.  The history books make it clear that the German U Boat Captains were thrilled when they first came to the American coast in 1942 because there was no proper blackouts. As such it was an easy thing for them to locate merchantmen at night, when the U Boat could operate most effectively, since the merchant ships would be sillouhetted against the lights from shore. Once effective blackouts began this advantage to the enemy was lost and probably numerous seaman, ships and cargos spared from destruction.

    Meanwhile on the homefront at home, my Dad decided to let go of the family car since with rationing he couldn't get gas or tires for it anyway (he could get a bus to work), nor could he store it anywhere.  He sold it, a `32 Ford Coupe, for $15, because nobody had gas for cars so the prices were low.  That always bugged him because after the war that car cost $500, but what could he do?

    In 1943 or 44, My Dad was called up to get a physical by the draft board. At the time this usually meant you were drafted, you would go straight in from the physical. He was still A rated, Mom thinks A-1 but the 3A on the State Guard papers makes me wonder if not 3A for draft too.

     Well the local guys who were called at this time all went to a local bar together. The bar owner threw them a farewell party.  Dad said his goodbyes.

      He went down to get his physical, I think at Newark. If I remember correctly he went down the first time and a Sergeant told the group they should come back in two weeks, but if anyone wanted to go now they could take a few men now.  Only one guy raised his hand, and when he did the sergeant cussed him out telling him that every guy in the army would kill to get two more weeks at home and who was he to throw that away.  But the guy had said his goodbyes and he was ready to go. I am not sure of the timing on this, my Mom thinks he only went down once, but I recall the story here as I tell it. Maybe it was another group who were told to come back and not my Dad's, not sure.

     Dad went back for his physical.  He told stories of lines of guys standing around naked holding paper in front of them.  I forget the jokes he had about it but he said it was for hours and hours and real cold and involved lots of poking and prodding.  His eyes were bad (he was 20/30 corrected in 1941 State Guard Physical) and my Mom says she always thought his rounded back was a factor though Dad never said so.  I recall him joking about flat feet too, but Mom doesn't think he had them. Anyway after the physical he went down the line to the next guy who asked for his papers and asked him if he wanted to join the Navy or the Army.  My Dad said Navy and the guy said he couldn't join the Navy because of his limited service status, which had just been marked down on Dad's chart.  My Dad, often less than meek, said "then why the **** did you ask me?"

     Well this ticked the guy off, but there wasn't much he could do.  The fellow then spent some time going through the papers and said that since my Dad's physical was restricted (I forget the classification, 1F maybe) he couldn't join right now because the Army already had as many of that classification as they needed.  They sent him home and told him they would call him when needed.  I don't know if this was just the physical or if his two kids and war industry job were factors as well. I know from my reading that this was the time that the Army had decided it had all the men in the pipeline that it thought it needed to win the war and decided to reduce intake.  But to my Dad it was a shock and embarrassing as all get out. He went home pretty discouraged. He had to go back and undo all the goodbyes.  People, he thought, looked at him funny like he had done something wrong. None of the other guys in the farewell party came back.

     The Army never did call him back up after that.  He was always embarrassed about that. He also was upset because he wanted to get the veteran status for the benefits.

     Although he was happy to take care of his wife and kids and being older he didn't have too mnay delusions about battlefield glory I don't think, in general my Dad always felt bad about not serving overseas.  Yet he performed a service which needed to be done, a skilled factory job making ordnance.  And it was not work for women.  My Dad always talked about how dangerous the job was. The shells as they were being lathed would get white hot. He had scars all over his hands from small molten shrapnel like bits that would fly off of the lathes. Sometimes they would be pretty big and hurt people seriously.  He went to the infirmary once with an injury. He was out for some time. You would stand up on a platform in front of your machine with a walkway behind you.  Down the walkway would move tractors or cranes lickety split carrying tons of shells or steel blanks, whatever.  The place was loud and you couldn't hear them coming and more than once he had to dive onto something next to the walkway to avoid being crushed. Not everyone was so quick. My Dad stepped into one once, but as lucky enough to fall on it rather than under it. That was probably one of the more minor things they had happen.

      Work was going around the clock to get ammo to the front lines and people worked extremely long hours, they were tired.  People would make mistakes or flake out where they shouldn't and get hurt. People would get killed or maimed frequently. One time in particular my Dad would talk about was a fellow being caught in an overhead crane somehow.  He doesn't know if he died or not but it took them a long time to get him out and he was in pain, yelling.  It was no war front, but it wasn't exactly a safe job either.  And the work was needed, as set forth in an artillery log of just one of the hundreds of such units, one battalion of artillery alone used over 97,000 rounds of artillery shells in France.  A battleship would carry 800 for her main guns at a time. Those shells had to come from somewhere. Whenever he would talk about how he regretted not serving over seas, I always told him that the work he did was necessary.  I even pointed out to him that his work was still serving the country since the shells the navy battleships used in Korea, Vietnam, the Mediteranean and the Gulf were all made in World War II.  I should have known that that wouldn't actually make him proud.  He didn't say anything, but he looked real thoughtful.  I think it made him feel bad.  He was a kind and peaceful man, a good man. I think he would rather that they had never been used at all.

----- John Justin

       famjustin@aol.com

LINKS

James F. Justin CCC Biography A biography regarding time in CCCs

Aunt Jemima on the Run A CCC story by James Justin of a Camp Near Buffalo New York

Bed Check A CCC story by James Justin of a Camp Near Buffalo New York

Oh Yeah? A CCC story by James Justin of a Camp Near Dover Delaware

Shot Heard Round The Meadowlands, A story by James Justin of Co. B, 3rd Infantry Regt., NJ State Guard, 1942

Still Frozen Waters A CCC story by James Justin of a Camp Near Buffalo New York

Yeah, But What About The Food? A CCC story by James Justin of a Camp Near Buffalo New York

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