Sirens, Dog Tags, and PS 11 - A Cold War Remembrance

BY LAURA KUNSTLER GRAFF
JULY 21, 2003

I have many memories of life in the 1950s; hopefully, most of them are accurate. I treasure my military style dog tag that the New York City Board of Education issued in 1953 or 1954 when I was a student in kindergarten or first grade at P.S. 11 in Woodside, Queens. Laura Kunstler at a neighbor's house circa 1953It was an era in which elementary children walked to school with friends and without parental supervision. I could walk to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread for my mother. It was something I liked to do, and there were virtually no safety concerns. The Board of Education considered the world beyond the immediate neighborhood and determined that it was necessary to issue dog tags to identify students in case of a devastating bomb attack from Cold War enemies of the United States.

Throughout my elementary school life, I experienced shelter drills and air raid drills. I don't think I understood the ramifications, but I obediently followed the teachersí instructions over the years. We had to practice duck and cover defenses as well as lining up in the halls away from glass that could shatter on us. These activities were just part of the school day. What terrified me were the air raid sirens. I lived about 300 feet from a fire station that operated a siren. It wasn't possible to hide from that noise. My older sister had standing orders from my mother to escort me home quickly if the sirens started up when we were outside.

I can still remember watching a short animated "story" on television that I believe was on the Ed Sullivan Show. In retrospect, this doesn't make sense, but it was a long time ago. Ed Sullivan, or the actual person involved, warned parents to send small children out of the room so they wouldn't be frightened by what was about to be shown. I was sent out, but I still watched from a secure position out of my parentsí sight. The movie illustrated what would happen when a nuclear bomb exploded. I can still envision the scene in which sleeping people were melted in their beds.

In spite of all this, I had a relatively normal childhood. I am more traumatized by living now in Los Angeles. I was living in Northridge during the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. I was sure that the epicenter was directly under my house, even though local seismologists located it several miles away. My dog tag memento of my early life in New York City is priceless. I'm grateful to still have it after so many years.

MS. GRAFF IS A LIBRARY MEDIA TEACHER AT WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT HIGH SCHOOL IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
CONELRAD WISHES TO THANK MS. GRAFF FOR HER CONTRIBUTION.
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