A childhood spent in WWII Bloomfield

Joe Barry

Editor’s note: A weekly feature of The Independent Press is “Spotlight on History” in which we look at past editions of the newspaper and republish stories of interest. “Spotlight” occasionally prompts responses from readers, and the story below is based on an interview with a reader following his response to a Nov. 7 story titled “Remembering Lt. Warren Van Winkle,” an 8th Army Air Force B-24 pilot who was killed over Germany during World War II.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — As a 10-year-old boy growing up in Bloomfield, former township councilman and administrator Joe Barry had a newspaper route, delivering about 100 newspapers from his bicycle that had been left in small bundles starting at Broad Street and West Passaic Avenue and continuing to East Passaic Avenue, where he lived, and then down to Centre Street in Nutley. The papers were mostly the Newark Evening News and, like any delivery boy, Barry got to know his customers.

“I knew all the farmers that were still there,” he said last weekend in the kitchen of his Elm Street home. “Most of them had dogs. And I like to talk to people. On a Saturday you collected, so you met every customer.”

Barry, who delivered the Van Winkle’s newspaper, said he was reading the Newark News himself when he was 10. Barry had his route for five years until age 15. During the war, he said, the newspapers were small and did not have many pages.

“I grew up at 642 East Passaic Ave. and the Van Winkles were at 646, so I remember Warren as a high school grad and a handsome officer with lieutenant bars,” he said. “That was before he was married. The Van Winkle’s was one of many stops on my route. It was a long route.”

Barry, 88, is a trustee of the Historical Society of Bloomfield and he provided a little history about the township in his recollection. He said his Uncle Walter, who owned Walter Johnson Homes, built half the houses that were standing in the Brookdale section after the war.

Uncle Walter, he said, originally had a bus route with his brother, Bob. Public Service, which began as a streetcar and bus company, purchased the route from them, and with the money Uncle Walter went into construction and Uncle Bob went into real estate. He also served on the township council for 19 years and six years as the township administrator.

“My dad bought the house at 642 East Passaic around 1930,” Barry said. “It was in my uncle’s inventory. When things got tough during the Depression, my parents moved in with my grandparents at 71 West Passaic Ave.”

Barry’s family shuffled back and forth between the houses on East and West Passaic avenues during the Depression while the Van Winkles remained at 646 East Passaic.

“Warren was pretty much grown when I was 10,” Barry said. “My sister, who is two years younger, was almost a resident of the Van Winkle’s house. Warren was a very kind guy.”

Barry said some of his customers were “good stops” and would give him a cup of water on a hot day and a cup of hot cocoa on a snowy day.
“You have to imagine a paper route with a bicycle and a bunch of papers on it that began at Broad and West Passaic and went to Centre Street, in Nutley,” he said. “On the route near Sadler Street, near Nutley, the families were older and had people in the service.”

Barry thought a moment but could not remember a customer’s name near the Nutley border, although he remembered the customer had a greenhouse.

“He would get two newspapers, the Ledger and the Evening News,” he said. “We had a few Newark-Star Ledgers and some Italian Tribunes. It was an afternoon delivery after school. There were five or six of us who delivered. The other boys were mostly from Byrd Avenue.”

Barry was not sure when the Van Winkles moved, but when they did, they left behind Warren’s bicycle. Barry said his cousin, Danny, ended up with it. When Danny died, the bike was passed to Cousin James, who stored it in his garage.

Hurricane Sandy ruined the bike, but Barry said he’d like to contact Warren’s daughter, Gail Marie, to see if she would like it. He said he has her phone number somewhere and has not been able to find it, but he will.

“Tragedies were happening every week,” Barry said thinking back to WWII and Warren Van Winkle. “Those guys flying the B-17s and B-24s, they had the highest casualty rate of any group in the armed forces and the 8th Air Force had the worst casualty rate. That group was doing the daylight bombing of Germany. What it did to the mothers of those guys was tragic.”