Weekly Feature

2017-12-06 / Local News

Tonawanda native pens ‘World War II Buffalo’


Knapp Knapp Gretchen Knapp’s novel, titled “World War II Buffalo,” takes the reader back to the time when the area’s workers were manufacturing aircraft for the Allies. Published by Arcadia Publishing, her book was released on Nov. 27.

“I love reading and studying history, especially that of both World Wars, American religious history and local history,” Knapp said in an email. “Author L.P. Hartley wrote, ‘The past is another country; they do things differently there.’ Writing about historical events is like an expedition into the unknown, full of surprises.”

A Town of Tonawanda native, Knapp graduated from Kenmore East High School and went on to receive a doctorate in history from the University of Buffalo. She noted that her parents were from Black Rock, but her great-uncle, Charles Duchscherer, was an engineer for the Village of Kenmore.

Hew new book, “World War II Buffalo,” took one year to write and another year to be published.

“For me, the most difficult part of writing was selecting how best to tell the story in words and pictures. My desktop and laptop computers gave out just as the manuscript was submitted with final revisions. I took that as a sign the book was done,” she said.

Knapp’s father was in the U.S. Navy assigned to Pearl Harbor, and her mother worked at Curtiss-Wright along with her sisters. And, her parents were married by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal chaplain.

While neighbors, teachers or family friends of a certain age were veterans, Knapp says no one wanted to talk about the war.

“Only after my mother’s passing did I find a letter she wrote to me explaining how World War II changed their lives. I knew then and there that I had to write about the challenges and contributions of Buffalonians in wartime.”

In her book, Knapp details how “the city and its neighbors experienced everything that other ‘boom-town’ areas did all at once.”

“In 1939, two years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the factories were already manufacturing defense goods for the Allies. Fort Niagara inducted 100,000 young men, resulting in an acute labor shortage that lasted until 1945. Defense plants such as Chevrolet, Republic Steel and American Brass employed 300,000 men. The aircraft plants, Curtiss-Wright and Bell Aircraft, hired 85,000 workers, mainly women, on 48-hour work weeks.”

According to Knapp, Fort Niagara became a German prisoner-of-war camp; Mexicans recruited by the U.S. government worked on the railroads; and Jamaicans planted and harvested side-by-side with migrant workers.

“Japanese-Americans quietly relocated to Buffalo, and over 300 Jews fled the Holocaust to settle here. Two-thirds of high school students, including the late Mayor Jimmy Griffin, dropped out of school to work. World War II turned everything upside down. Overseas, Buffalonians watched the flag raising at Iwo Jima, participated in the Manhattan Project and observed the formal surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay.”

Now a retired history professor residing in Illinois, Knapp plans to continue writing about World War II. She says the latest group of World War II historians has set a high standard blending history and prose.

“I’m interested in telling the story of a Western New York native, Gaynor Jacobson, who, as a newly minted social worker from UB, traveled to Hungary, Greece and Turkey in 1944 to care for refugee children. He helped people displaced by the war all over the world. Jacobson’s papers were released earlier this year, so I am hopeful to start research soon.”

For more information, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.

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