This post is a celebration of the life and legacy of a remarkable person, my mother, Rosetta Catherine Lillard (1927-2009). She would be celebrating her 85th birthday on July 29th of this year. She continues to be a role model and inspiration, and is greatly missed by many family members, loved ones and friends. This tribute is from "The Rosetta Catherine Lillard Story", a biography-in-progress.
Rosetta Catherine Smith, Class of 1944
“The power of a glance has been so overdone in love stories that it has come to be disbelieved. Few people daresay, nowadays, that two beings have fallen in love because they looked at each other. Yet that is the way love begins, and the only way.” ~ Victor Hugo
Rosetta Catherine Smith graduated from I. C. Norcom High School, Portsmouth, VA in 1944. Two years earlier, Norcom H. S. had gotten a new principal, William E. Waters, who would hold that position for the next 24 years. William E. Riddick had served as Norcom’s principal from 1915-1942. There was a changing of the guard at Norcom High in 1942, as the old leadership gave way to the new. The new principal, William E. Waters, would bring a new enthusiasm and level of energy to the leadership of Norcom H. S. He would introduce fresh, new ideas and innovative initiatives. Mr. Waters would proudly proclaim I. C. Norcom, the best high school in the South! And many, including Rosetta Catherine Smith, would definitely agree.
Rosetta Catherine Smith was listed as a member of the I. C. Norcom graduating class of 1944. Also listed in the Class of ’44 was Margaret Marie Shelton, Rosetta’s best friend at Norcom High. Margaret would play a significant role in Rosetta’s life story. She would be responsible for Rosetta meeting her future husband, Horace R. Lillard, Jr. But we are getting ahead of our story!
Upon graduating from I. C. Norcom H. S., Rosetta Smith matriculated at the newly opened Norfolk State College, in Norfolk, VA. Her father, Joseph Smith, was a successful businessman in Portsmouth, and so Rosetta decided to major in business administration. That way she could pursue her goal of higher educational attainment, and contribute to building her country economically, while applying the business insights and principles she had learned from her father.
1944, the year Rosetta graduated from Norcom H. S., was a very propitious year. Scientists at Harvard University developed the first, general purpose digital computer. Ralph Bunche was appointed the first African American official to the U. S. State Department. Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected President for an unprecedented fourth term, choosing Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman as his vice presidential running mate. The St. Louis Cardinals won the baseball World Series. The Washington Homestead Grays defeated the Birmingham Black Barons 4-1 to win the Negro League World Series. The average cost of a loaf of bread was 10 cents. Average wages were $2400 per year. And the average cost of a new house was $3,450.
The motion picture, “Going My Way”, starring Bing Crosby received the Academy Award for best picture in 1944. Jazz great Louis Armstrong performed in the first jazz concert ever held at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC. The most popular radio programs of the day included Abbott and Costello, Jack Benny, and Red Skelton. Swing music dominated the music scene. And Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole were at the top of the popular music charts.
However, Rosetta Smith’s high school years were not all a bed of roses. She, as most Americans, was very conscious of the ominous clouds of war that hovered overhead. The 1944 Summer Olympic Games, which were to be held in London, were cancelled due to the war. In 1944, the year Rosetta Smith graduated from high school, the number one concern on most American’s minds was World War II.
On June 6, 1944, Rosetta learned of “Operation Overlord” aka, the D-Day Invasion. On that day, the Allies launched the largest amphibious military operation in history, landing 155,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France. News of the historic invasion was broadcast via radio all across America. Far from the sandy beaches of Hampton Roads, this massive military operation would help liberate France from German occupation, and weaken Hitler’s Nazi hold on Europe.
World War II had begun on September 1, 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Germany. It would be the most widespread war in history, and last from 1939 to 1945. It would cost 50 million to 70 million lives. Over 100 million men and women served in military units around the globe. World War II would be marked by the Holocaust, and the use of the atomic bomb.
The United States entered World War II following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the morning of December 7, 1941. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7th “a date which will live in infamy.” The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. The United States reciprocated the same day.
World War II would become a “total war”, erasing many of the distinctions between military and civilian resources. The United States would place all of its economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort.
Just as with World War I, World War II would trigger a tremendous economic boom in the Hampton Roads, VA area, as the nation mobilized for total war. The availability of jobs soared in all war related industries, attracting people to the region from across the nation. Business enterprises throughout the Hampton Roads region were energized as workers and military personnel flooded the area.
The war mobilization was marked by a tremendous increase in military recruitment and enlistments. Over 16 million Americans would serve in the United States military during World War II. 3,546,179 persons entered the U. S. Navy during this period. Of course, many of these naval personnel would come through Hampton Roads, home of the largest naval base in the world. One of those personnel would be a U. S. Navy seaman from Beckley, West Virginia named Horace R. Lillard, Jr., the future husband of Rosetta Smith!
Little did Rosetta Catherine Smith imagine that the military mobilization of World War II would lead her path to cross that of Horace R. Lillard, Jr. But their paths did cross. And, as has been so famously said, “The rest is history!”
Until next time,
Hi! I'm Kenneth Lillard, author, ordained minister, and motivational speaker. This blog is an expression of some of my thoughts and opinions. I'm glad you stopped by. Hope you'll share some of your comments while you're here. Be Blessed!