Camp memories: Bug juice, boxing matches, ration stamps and V-J Day

Back in the late summer of 1945, my father decided to send my older brother and myself to Camp Henry Horner in Round Lake, named after the first Jewish governor of the state of Illinois.

It turned out that the three weeks would encompass some very important weeks of World War II. While we were there, the first two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and V-J Day was on Aug. 14.

Friend Roy Wainer (from left), brother Allen and Jerry “Omie” Pritikin at Camp Henry Horner, 1945

We had to give the camp several books of rationing stamps to cover our food and $25 a week for the both of us. Although the minimum age was 9, I was 8 years old.

We left from Chicago’s old west side ABC Jewish boxing club by a caravan of yellow school buses. It took a little over an hour out of the city to get there. Back then, that was all farmland.

The camp was divided into three age brackets. Our cabins were named after birds, and mine was “the Larks.” The kitchen mess was painted white and there was a bell tower to let us know when mealtime was at hand. The Kool-Aid was called “bug juice,” and the food was good.

At night we sang songs, went to a movie or had entertainment in the assembly hall. At 5, we would sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and take the flag down. We even had boxing matches for the different age groups. I won my fight when I managed to hit my opponent two times in three rounds … both hits came when my coach held up his hand and asked the other kid how many fingers did he have up? I believe the Three Stooges went to a camp like this!

The writer at age 10 with his J.C. Higgins mitt, 1947

I would go visit my brother, and vice-versa. We made plastic key chains and we all had a flashlight, so we could cross darkened fields at night and keep an eye out for gopher holes at the same time.

We went home a few days after V-J Day. My dad celebrated the end of the war by buying my brother Allen and me our first two-wheel Schwinn bikes and J.C. Higgins fielder mitts from Sears, Roebuck.

My dad was my baseball rabbi. He gave me a crash course in baseball 101, Cubs history and a special chapter on Hammerin’ “Hank” Greenberg. He also taught me how to keep a scorecard. Then he took me to my first game at beautiful Wrigley Field. A short time later, when the Cubs clinched the pennant, I asked my dad to take me to the Cubs/Tigers World Series. He felt I was too young, but made me a promise: He would take me the next time. That was 1945, and I’m still waiting to get to the Promised Land!

Jerry Pritikin, 75, is a former photographer and publicist who lived in the Bay Area for 23 years and was involved in the early gay rights movement, counting Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone as friends. He lives in Chicago.