History lessons about World War II often focus on places where battles were fought, but a new play examines the conflict’s effect on life in a small town. The story for “Bonds of War” centers around real events and people working at the Adair County Free Press in Greenfield, Iowa during the 1940s. It’s written by Des Moines author John Busbee.
Busbee based much of the story on K.H. Sidey’s editorials, the editor of the paper during the war. “He wasn’t just the voice for the people, he was like a caretaker of the greater community,” says Busbee. “And he took that responsibility very much to heart and soul, and I think people understood and gave him their full trust and vice versa.”
The Sidey family ran the newspaper until last year when they sold it. That’s when they commissioned Busbee to write a play about the history of Adair County during World War II. Busbee researched the era with the help of people like Nancy Gross from Greenfield. She says one of the first things she did for this project was to read Adair County Free Press issues from December 1941.
“So I’m moving up to Pearl Harbor Day thinking, O.K. blazing headlines here in the Free Press,” says Gross. “There was nothing but one little box thing about the draft board. And I’m like, oh my God. You know, World War II is starting here. Well then the second page is K.H. Sidey’s editorial, which would knock your socks off. And I will say, I’ve got big con… I’m proudly very patriotic. My father was killed in World War II, in Janurary 31st of 1945. And I was just two and half years old. So I have grown up with the war in my background all the time.”
The play has many scenes about the loss of friends and family killed in action and the challenges of rationing food, gas, and tires. But not every scene is gloomy. The character Mamie Lynam injects enthusiasm and humor into the production as the social writer for the paper. She is played by actress Brenda Thaden.
“When I started talking about the play to other people in town, they would ask me what part I had and I would say Mamie and they would all go OHHHH,” says Thaden. “I try to kind of burst on the scene and lighten the mood, immediately.”
Playwright John Busbee says small towns across the country had similar experiences to the ones in his play, and he hopes it will inspire people to learn more about hardships on the homefront during the war. “The strongest lesson I hope audience members will take from this, is while there is someone who is still alive to talk to or even that next generation down who has a good story telling capability, capture those stories, get the essence of who those people were, and share it, celebrate it, and pass it on,” says Busbee.
“Bonds of War” debuts and closes this weekend with the Cumberland Rose Players in Greenfield’s opera house. Busbee says he hopes to revive the play in other communities, and is interested in writing more about Adair County’s mid 20th century history.