SOUTH PORTLAND – Our old black Bakelite radio was tuned to “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye,” my mother sang along with the radio as she cleaned up the kitchen after Sunday dinner. As a 5-year-old momma’s girl, I was always underfoot. It was 2:29 p.m. on Dec 7, 1941. Suddenly the music stopped and the announcer exclaimed, “We interrupt this program for a special bulletin: The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.”

An ominous feeling pervaded our whole house, and there was deathly silence. I asked my mother, “What does it mean?” She answered somberly, “We are going to war.”

All that day there was a pall over our whole house; everyone had retreated to their own private sanctuaries to try to quiet their fears.

President Roosevelt signed a declaration of war against Japan the next day, and the following day against Germany. The next four years of my life, from the ages of 5 to 9, would be shaped by this declaration.

Our father was too old and had too many children to be drafted, so he learned to identify enemy aircraft and became an air raid warden. He had assigned times to be in a lookout tower and report any sightings of enemy planes. We had air raid drills, which we called blackouts, as we had to keep our shades pulled down and not turn on any lights. Living near Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, we were vulnerable to an enemy attack. This base was deactivated in 1968 and is now the site of the Bangor International Airport.

Shortages of many items brought about rationing. Sugar, butter, meat, gas, rubber and nylon were some of the things that were rationed. Meat being in short supply and on the list of rationed items, my mother became very creative with a can of Spam.

Because nylon was needed for making parachutes, cords and rope for airplanes, all production of nylon stockings was halted. Early nylons had a seam down the back of the leg, so some women used a color stick and drew a seam down the back of their leg to resemble the stockings. We saved tin cans, rubber and grease for the war effort. People brought Liberty Bonds to help finance the war.

My brothers fashioned rifles from sticks and fought endless battles against the Germans and Japanese. They begged for BB guns.

They had memorized all the enemy aircraft from Dad’s pamphlets and were constantly on the lookout for an airplane with a big red sun on it — this was the distinctive sign of a Japanese fighter plane.

When we played house, although we did not know it at the time, my sister and I were early feminists, bringing up our family of dolls alone. Our imaginary husbands were soldiers stationed oversea, fighting to defend our country. We wrote them letters and posted them in the rural mailbox.

At times we could forget the war and just be children, but there were reminders everywhere.

When we went to the double feature at the movies on Saturdays, there were newsreels of huge armies of goose-stepping German soldiers, their right arms outstretched over their heads in a salute to the Fuhrer as they shouted “Heil Hitler.” There were endless pictures of bombed-out cities, with our British allies huddled in bomb shelters as squadrons of enemy planes dropped bombs and demolished their homeland. How sad we were when we saw a gold star in the window of someone’s home — it meant they had lost a loved one in this brutal war.

On Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb named Little Boy was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, followed by Fatman dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

Images of the mushroom clouds that erupted from the huge craters caused by the bombs that we had dropped on Japan would be a specter burned in our memories. I was too young to grasp the ghastly, ungodly loss of human life. It had been determined by military experts that this action would save more lives than a land invasion.

This formidable decision to use atomic warfare, made by President Truman, is what caused the Japanese to surrender. Victory over Japan was declared on Aug. 14, 1945. Peace at last.

Although I do not remember a celebration when the war ended, my friends tell me they took garbage can lids and sticks and paraded up and down the street banging on their homemade drums and cheering loudly to mark the joyful event. All over America church bells rang and fire horns blared. What would come to be known as the greatest generation had met the enemy and defeated them.

What did I learn while growing up in those war years?

I learned to make do, I learned to conserve and recycle, I learned to share. I developed a fierce patriotism and love of my country. I learned the enormous price paid for freedom.

Elaine Parker is a resident of South Portland.