Wartime in U.S. Communities
Wartime in U.S. Communities
For the United States, World War II lasted from December 8, 1941, until September 2, 1945. During this period, communities across the country felt the impact of war in various ways. This chapter describes how the war affected San Diego, California; Washington, D.C.; the states of Michigan and Washington; North Platte, Nebraska; and the U.S. territory of Hawaii. The business of war significantly altered life on the home front in nearly every part of the nation; the communities described in this chapter serve as examples. From tiny North Platte to the boomtown of San Diego, citizens saw their communities transformed by the new wartime economy.
San Diego: Boomtown
With several large military facilities and an everexpanding aircraft industry, San Diego turned into a boom-town during the war years. San Diego, a beautiful temperate Southern California city with a deepwater port, became one of the most important naval centers of the world. The city was home to a huge naval hospital and supply depot; a destroyer, submarine, and light cruiser operating base; an advanced training center; and one of the largest U.S. naval bases for aircraft. At North Island Naval Air Station, located along the coastal section of the city, the U.S. Navy maintained facilities to repair airplanes. The Marine Corps also had facilities in San Diego, and U.S. Army personnel were at Fort Rosecrans and Camp Callan. Soldiers and sailors were everywhere on the streets of San Diego. Their paychecks brought a huge influx of money into the city's economy.
In 1917 a naval aviator named Reuben Fleet (1887–1975) graduated from the North Island Naval Air Station. Fleet established Consolidated Aircraft Company in the state of New York but moved the company to San Diego in 1933. The navy awarded him contracts for patrol planes, and the army placed regular orders for pursuit planes. To fulfill these orders Consolidated expanded from 900 employees in 1935 to 3,700 in 1936. In March 1939 Consolidated developed a bomber for the army, the B-24. When Germany invaded Poland in September of that year, the company anticipated that more military contracts would be coming, so it leased seventeen more acres to add to its plant. By March 1940 Great Britain was embroiled in the war and ordered 344 B-24s. That same month, President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) asked U.S. aircraft manufacturers to build a total of fifty thousand planes per year. Consolidated, 5,700 employees strong, had $70 million in backlogged orders, so it began adding 150 new workers each week. The B-24, Consolidated's major product, became one of the outstanding aircraft of World War II. San Diego was on its way to becoming a booming war industry town.
Something in Common
In communities across the United States, big and small, a common sight could be seen. When a family member, such as a son or daughter, joined military service, a service flag with a blue star was hung in a window of the family home, where it could be seen by the public. If the son or daughter was killed in service, a gold star replaced the blue star.
The continuing influx of military personnel and the arrival of new war industry workers exhausted San Diego's supply of housing. Reuben Fleet recognized that his company's success hinged on having enough employees available to fill the military's orders; he also knew these potential employees had to have somewhere to live. Fleet decided to go to Washington, D.C., to request funding for a new housing development in San Diego. In October 1940 he met with Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. (1891–1967) and secured grant money through the Lanham Act for National Defense Housing. By early 1941 the new housing development, called Linda Vista,
was under construction. Linda Vista was a $9 million project featuring three thousand new houses; it was the largest construction project in San Diego history and the world's largest low-cost modern prefabricated tract housing development at the time. The original three thousand houses were to be built in three hundred days. At the peak of construction, builders finished forty homes a day. The floor plans for all the houses were identical, but buyers could choose from twenty-five different exteriors. The first tract housing development in the United States, called Edgemoor Terrace, was built in 1939 in Wilmington, Delaware. The term "tract housing" refers to similarly constructed homes built on a defined piece (tract) of land. Though it became a familiar sight in the mid-twentieth century, tract housing was still a new concept to most Americans in the 1940s.
The first homes in Linda Vista opened to residents on March 6, 1941. The first Linda Vista childcare center opened in spring 1942, as did Kearny High School. The development included a Safeway grocery store and Linda Vista Department Store. The department store was located in the first planned shopping center in San Diego. By April 1943, 4,416 families—16,245 people—lived at Linda Vista.
In one row after another, new houses continued creeping up and over San Diego's hills. Hundreds of trailers were brought in for living spaces. Construction workers flocked to the city, and many of their families lived in tents until they could find housing. Schools were seriously over-crowded. Classes met in every available space, including lunchrooms, until schools could be expanded. As the city struggled to keep up with its population boom, piles of lumber awaiting delivery to construction sites were continuously stacked high in front of the San Diego civic center, known as the Embarcadero, a waterfront area where ships unloaded their cargo.
So many jobs
Consolidated Aircraft Company employed 23,089 male and female workers in 1941, and by 1943 it had 45,000 workers on its payroll. New employees were trained at a twenty-four-hour vocational (training for a specific trade or technical task) school, a first in education history. Workers no longer needed to search for jobs; instead, employers were desperately searching for workers. Tourists in San Diego complained about being offered jobs while they were simply trying to relax on a park bench and enjoy the sun. Consolidated Aircraft workers averaged $47.50 for a fifty-hour week; minimum pay was $27.50 per week.
Only a few years earlier, a sleepy San Diego had closed down by 10 or 11 p.m., but by 1942 theaters and restaurants remained open all night to serve the around-the-clock workforce. Military bases gobbled up more and more land within the city. Ships moved continuously through the harbor waterways while military planes rumbled overhead. The home front city of San Diego had been changed forever by the booming wartime economy.
Washington, D.C., in wartime
During World War II a visitor to Washington, D.C., would have found many famous public areas of the nation's capital filled with an array of temporary buildings, commonly referred to as "tempos." Between the Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial, 53 acres of open green space gave way to temporary wooden office buildings. Gazing from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, a visitor would have seen two separate wooden spans crossing over the reflecting pools and connecting temporary navy office buildings located on opposite sides of the pools. Washington, D.C., along with nearby areas of Virginia and Maryland, was headquarters for the massive business of war. Every available bit of office space was needed to hold new and temporary workers and mountains of warrelated paperwork.
Federal war agencies and the military services filled tempos with thousands of war workers as fast as the
buildings could be constructed. In addition to the many tempos, the government leased all or parts of more than two hundred private office buildings. The former occupants, businesses or government agencies not considered essential for the war effort, moved to other areas outside the capital or to other cities. For example, the Patent Office headed to Richmond, Virginia, and the Railroad Retirement Board moved to Chicago, Illinois.
During the war years the White House and its grounds were closed to tourists. Iron fencing prevented trespassing, and armed soldiers stood guard. Troops guarding the White House area lived in temporary army barracks on the Ellipse, right by the president's home. The White House acquired the historic Blair House across the street to house its guests; the guest list included many government officials from all over the world, who were streaming into Washington to discuss wartime plans.
Between 1940 and 1943 the population in the Washington, D.C., area increased 25 percent. Approximately 283,000 federal workers, double the number employed by the government during World War I (1914–18), crowded stores, restaurants, theaters, and all forms of public transportation. Housing was virtually impossible to find. The War Department and the Treasury employed the largest number of civilian workers in Washington. Temporary war agencies such as the War Production Board (WPB), War Manpower Commission (WMC), and Office of War Information (OWI) also employed thousands. Downtown Washington streets were locked in traffic throughout the day. Over one hundred thousand civilian workers and military men and women moved through Union Station every twenty-four hours on their way to catch various commuter trains. Most federal workers had forty-eight-hour work-weeks, and their working hours were varied to improve street traffic, train, and pedestrian flow. Before the war most stores were not open at night. However, many Washington-area stores began staying open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays to allow people who worked a day shift more time to shop. After the war and into the 1950s it became customary for department stores across the country to stay open on Thursday nights.
After the United States entered the war, thousands of young women flocked to Washington, D.C., hoping to fill government jobs newly created by the administrative needs of the war effort. Many of these young women did find employment, but they also found housing in Washington extremely scarce. In an effort to ease the housing shortage, the government began the Arlington Farms project, a housing project on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The government built ten dormitories, each named after a state. The ten dorms accommodated about six thousand "government girls," as the working young women were called. Each room was pleasantly and comfortably decorated and rented for $24.50 a month. There was a central restaurant that seated eighteen hundred, gathering rooms (for social activities such as card games), and ironing rooms. The complex also had recreational areas, a department store, a huge beauty shop, and an infirmary. Four additional dorms housed military women. Three more dormitories—Alcott Hall, Barton Hall, and Curie Hall—were built in West Potomac Park. At nearby Langston Air Base in Virginia, two dormitories (Midway and Wake) housed black American young women who worked for the government.
In Arlington, Virginia, federal housing agencies built temporary dorms and family units to accommodate 4,400. Private builders added 8,500 homes. Arlington transformed from a quiet rural town to a busy suburban arm of the nation's capital. In Alexandria, Virginia, 371 apartment buildings with 2,300 apartments were built on 323 acres. In the northwest section of Washington, D.C., new apartment projects and nine residence halls for unmarried individuals were finished in 1943.
New permanent buildings
The most impressive building constructed during the war years was the Pentagon. A massive concrete structure—definitely not a tempo—the Pentagon would house the huge War Department. (War Department offices had previously been scattered in several different buildings.) The Army Corps of Engineers chose a 320-acre site across the Potomac River in Virginia, about three miles from the White House. Construction began in September 1941, and the building was finished sixteen months later, in January 1943. Sixteen and a half miles of corridors led to almost 4 million square feet of office and storage space. More than 55,000 meals, 25,000 cups of coffee, 3,250 quarts of milk, and 17,000 carbonated beverages were sold every day in the Pentagon's eating areas. A large shopping area within the structure, complete with bank and health facilities, served those working at the Pentagon. The American Red Cross set up a permanent blood donor center there. The telephone system within the Pentagon was the size of a small city's service.
Another permanent building completed during the war was the Jefferson Memorial. Although it had no connection to war activities, Americans proudly viewed it as a symbol of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," that is, the ideals Americans were fighting for in the war.
The Washington National Airport (later called Reagan National, named after President Ronald Reagan, 1911–2004; served 1981–89) was completed and opened in June 1941. It was close to the Pentagon and just 3.5 miles from downtown Washington. By February 1942, fifty thousand passengers were arriving and departing from National daily. However, only a year later commercial flights decreased because pilots were leaving civilian work to join the Army Air Forces. Many of the silver passenger planes were repainted in a dull military grey and put to use by the Air Transport Command.
Also completed during wartime was the National Naval Medical Center near Bethesda, Maryland. Navy, marine, and Coast Guard servicemen who had been wounded in action were treated there. A 270-foot white tower centered the structure and was visible for miles around. The medical center also housed research and study facilities.
Michigan: Wartime powerhouse
The Great Lakes region provided a prime example of a region converting its industry to production of wartime needs and the social changes that accompanied the conversion. Michigan's automobile industry led the way in the state's conversion from a peacetime economy to a wartime economy. The U.S. government banned production of civilian automobiles in early 1942, to force the industry to switch to the production of aircraft, aircraft parts, military trucks, tanks, and marine equipment. For example, landing craft known as "ducks," which had propellers for water and six wheels for land, moved along the assembly lines at General Motors' Truck Division. Automobile mogul Henry Ford built a gigantic aircraft plant called Willow Run in a rural area west of Detroit, completed in early 1942. The plant offered thousands of jobs building B-24s.
To supplement the war production of Detroit's automotive giants (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors), thousands of small manufacturers across the state contracted with the big manufacturers and the federal government to make smaller parts. Their facilities ranged in size from converted garages to small plants. The city of Detroit also became the largest producer of munitions in the world.
War industry wages were very good, averaging $62 a week in the Detroit area and $56 a week for the entire state. These wages were considerably better than those paid in the aircraft industry in Southern California, where the average wage was $47.50 a week. However, there was a general shortage of available workers, especially in the Detroit area, so manufacturers recruited thousands from Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas. To avoid workforce shortages in neighboring states, the War Manpower Commission, a federal agency, prohibited Michigan from recruiting workers in the bordering states of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Detroit was growing by 13,500 people per month in 1942 and 1943. The population in the greater metropolitan area increased by 600,000 to hit a total of 2.4 million. So many new workers came from Tennessee and Kentucky that people began to joke about it, saying that there were only forty-six states in America because Tennessee and Kentucky were now in Michigan. (At this time, there were only forty-eight U.S. states.)
The large, rapid increase in population presented numerous challenges in Michigan. The most pressing social concern was housing. For example, the rural area where Willow Run was located lacked adequate housing and transportation. Nearby communities such as Ypsilanti were already bursting at the seams with Willow Run workers. The federal government built some housing in the area, including
North Platte Canteen
From December 25, 1941, until April 1, 1946, seven months after the end of World War II, the train station on Front Street in North Platte, Nebraska, was much more than a place to catch trains. The station was transformed into the North Platte Canteen. North Platte was a farming community of twelve thousand, located on the Midwestern plains and hours from the nearest urban centers. The tracks that ran through the town were a main east-west line of Union Pacific Railroad. The trains carried thousands of soldiers to ports on the East and West coasts where they would embark for war zones in Europe or the Pacific. On a freezing Christmas Day in 1941, a handful of North Platte citizens decided to offer the soldiers moving through the station a home-cooked meal and treats. The news about the food and treats spread rapidly, and more and more volunteers came forth. Soon the station was a warm, welcoming canteen where soldiers could enjoy food, magazines, and even live piano music. Canteen staff members also offered smiles, words of encouragement, and thanks to the young soldiers.
North Platte Canteen volunteers met every train that came through the station, beginning at 5 a.m. and staying until the last train passed through around midnight—and they did this every single day, from that first Christmas until a few months after the war ended (at that point, they were serving soldiers who were headed home). Groups from 125 communities in Nebraska and Colorado participated regularly in an organized schedule to staff the canteen. Farming communities donated thousands of eggs and vast quantities of milk and vegetables. Homemade cakes and cookies arrived daily. Meanwhile troop trains were constantly coming in and out of the station. Early in the war between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers moved through North Platte on the busiest days. Toward the end of the war as many as 8,000 a day passed through on peak days. Although stops lasted only ten to fifteen minutes, the soldiers poured off the train into the canteen. Eventually 600,000 soldiers received the kindness of the North Platte Canteen.
dormitories for unmarried workers. A privately financed subdivision between Willow Run and Dearborn advertised a $100 move-in cost for permanent homes. Additionally, hundreds of temporary duplexes were built on several acres near Willow Run. Some workers lived in trailers along the highways. In nearby communities, zoning ordinances were frequently ignored as residents rented out rooms in their homes to Willow Run workers and their families. Still, most Willow Run workers had to commute long distances to work every day. Carpooling and combining gas ration coupons, many drove their cars
up to an hour each way from areas east and west of Detroit.
Because of wartime gas shortages and rationing, workers commuting within Detroit also had trouble obtaining enough gasoline for their trips to work. The gas shortage affected the city's transportation pattern. Before the war, most Detroit residents drove their own cars to work and to the stores. During the war, almost all of them crowded onto streetcars and buses, and those public transportation systems became severely overcrowded.
As more and more women took jobs in the region's war industries, Michigan's social service agencies recognized a considerable number of children were becoming "latchkey kids." With no parent at home, these children carried keys on string around their necks so they could let themselves into their homes or apartments after school. Concerned about the safety and welfare of these children, local schools, agencies, and recreation centers opened snack bars and created small social clubs, hoping latchkey kids would spend time there rather than staying home alone. Social services agencies also attempted to oversee privately run nursery schools opened for working mothers with preschool children. Concern for latchkey kids and youngsters in daycare was prevalent in most large war industry centers where mothers as well as dads joined the workforce.
Michigan residents not only experienced lifestyle adjustments to accommodate wartime employment but also changed their recreational habits. Movie houses, bowling alleys, and restaurants stayed open around the clock. It was apparent when shift changed occurred, because long lines formed outside movie houses, even at such odd hours as 8:00 a.m. Because of gas rationing, Detroit residents no longer jumped in their cars and headed to northern Michigan for fishing and other recreational activities. Resorts close to the industrial centers still thrived, but most of those that required long drives were forced to close. Tourism, especially fishing and hunting, had been a major industry in Michigan before the war, but it dropped off significantly during wartime.
Just as other citizens across the nation, Michigan residents spent many hours volunteering for war effort activities. Volunteering for responsibilities such as air raid warden within the local branch of the Office of Civilian Defense attracted considerable numbers of people. Studies had been released in local papers showing that Michigan's war industries were within range of German bombers. Cooperating with local civil defense organizations, communities and neighborhoods prepared with practice air raid alerts.
Another highly popular war activity was planting victory gardens (private gardens planted by individual families to add to the nation's wartime food supply). Michigan residents planted more land in victory gardens than was planted in the entire state for commercial vegetable crops. Diligently caring for their crops, Michigan victory gardeners produced 500,000 tons of vegetables, worth $20 million, in 1943 alone. A different type of wartime agricultural project occurred in northern Michigan near Petoskey. Milkweed grew wild there, and scientists thought it might be an excellent substitute for kapok, a fiber that was used as a buoyant material for life jackets. Before the war the United States had imported kapok from Southeast Asia; however, all U.S. trade with that region ceased during wartime. In a 1943 experiment, milkweed was collected (with the aid of schoolchildren), dried, and tested in scientific laboratories. It was found to have the same properties as kapok. In 1944 project leaders organized twenty-nine states to collect milkweed. The pods went to Petoskey for processing.
The state of Washington
The wartime economy played a significant role in every state. In some states, such as California and Michigan, war industry contracts from the U.S. government had profound effects on local communities. Washington was another state affected by war production contracts. In July 1942 the War Production Board (WPB) announced that the aircraft industry in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton area of western Washington had been awarded contracts worth $1 billion. To fulfill these contracts, the Seattle aircraft plants, including the giant Boeing Company, quintupled their square footage, reaching an expanse of 4.1 million square feet at the beginning of 1943. The WPB also announced that Seattle shipyards had received $709 million in government contracts, more than one hundred times the amount awarded in 1939. According to the census of 1940 the state of Washington had a population of 1,736,191. The war industries quickly added 250,000 individuals to that number.
To support its aircraft and shipyard industries, the state of Washington produced essential metals such as aluminum, lead, zinc, copper, and tungsten. Washington had produced no aluminum in 1939, but by 1942 it was producing one-third of all U.S. aluminum. The Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams, both built during the 1930s, provided the tremendous amounts of energy needed for aluminum production. Washington's lumber, fishing, and agricultural industries hit all-time production highs. Lumber was used in a variety of wartime construction projects, from barracks to barges to whole factories. The army and navy bought up the entire supply of Northwest canned salmon, a nonperishable item that could be shipped to troops overseas. The army and navy also purchased much of the state's farm produce.
The population centers in Washington State experienced the same problems of overcrowding that plagued San Diego, Washington, D.C., Detroit, and many other U.S. cities. New housing developments sprouted almost overnight, but many families lived in temporary trailer parks. Hospitals, local city services, and schools were severely strained. The military presence in the state contributed to the population boom. By 1944 approximately fifteen army bases and twenty-one stations for the Army Air Forces were located throughout the state. There were also eight navy stations, including the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Hanford Atomic Works, the nuclear plant that would purify plutonium for the first U.S. atomic bomb, also brought an influx of new workers to the state. The facilities were built along the Columbia River in southeastern Washington.
Affected towns and cities
Spokane, a town in eastern Washington, provides one example of how military bases affected small-to medium-sized U.S. towns. Two small bases, Fort Wright and Felts Field, were already established in Spokane when the United States went to war. Geiger Field, Fairchild Air Force Base (originally known as Galena), Baxter Hospital for wounded soldiers, and Velox Naval Supply Depot were added during the war years. Just across the Idaho-Washington border from Spokane was Farragut Naval Station, the navy's second-largest training center.
Thousands of civilian positions within the military provided new job opportunities and greatly brightened the employment picture in Spokane. The military leased numerous civilian buildings in Spokane, including a closed department store, and used them for office space to build the new military bases. The military then hired Spokane residents into civilian clerical and administrative jobs. To build the new military bases, approximately thirty thousand male residents were needed. Women took over jobs in the town, such as bus drivers, that those men had previously held. Two new aluminum-producing plants were built in the area requiring construction workers and, later on, regular employees. The Spokane public school system had hired only single schoolteachers before the war but many of those teachers left for the war jobs. Soon the schools were hiring married teachers as fast as they could.
The war also affected Spokane's service organizations and social life. The residents of Spokane established welcoming centers and recreational facilities for the thousands of soldiers in town. Several USO (United Service Organizations) centers opened, including the George Washington Carver Club for black military personnel. USO centers, operated by local volunteers, provided food and social activities to servicemen. USOs strove to be a "home away from home" for those in the military. Church groups sponsored dinners, dances, and other social events. Many residents rented rooms to wives of servicemen, who usually wanted to stay close to the military bases.
Rising Telephone Use
During the war years only about one-half of American homes had telephones. Before the war residents and civilian businesses rarely made long-distance calls. Long-distance calling did not become common until U.S. military personnel were separated from their loved ones during World War II. The number of long-distance calls placed in the United States tripled between 1939 and 1945. There was no direct dial; all calls went through a live long-distance operator who connected callers to the numbers they requested. Government and military calls had priority over all others.
Bell Telephone, later known as AT&T, employed 171,439 long-distance operators during the war. Approximately 600,000 long-distance calls were placed every day in 1945.
Tacoma, a city just south of Seattle, was also a military hub and a war industry center. Its two army bases, Fort Lewis and McCord Air Field, expanded rapidly. McCord was the largest bomber training facility in the United States by 1943. By late 1941, when the United States entered the war, Fort Lewis could train fifty thousand soldiers at a time. The Fort Lewis Hospital eventually became the immense Madigan Medical Center for wounded servicemen. After the war Fort Lewis and Madigan remained as permanent military centers and were still at the center of Tacoma's economy in the early twenty-first century.
War's impact on Washington's schools
The Washington legislature provided funding in 1941 for new school construction. However, despite the funding, there was an acute shortage of school facilities throughout the state because building materials were scarce and student numbers continued to rise. Teachers held classes in every nook of the school, including hallways and lunchrooms. Schools needed twice the number of teachers they had needed in 1940. At the same time, many teachers were leaving their profession to take higher-paying jobs in the war industry. Because regular certified teachers were not available in sufficient numbers, the state of Washington began issuing War Emergency Certificates, teaching certificates that allowed noncredentialed people to teach in the public school system.
Schools also struggled with transportation and scheduling. Because of wartime restrictions on the use of important materials such as metal and rubber, no new school buses were built during the war years. As old buses broke down, they had to be fixed or let go. Therefore, schools often had to stagger student arrivals and departures, because there were not enough buses to transport all of them at one time. In areas near war production plants, schools sometimes adjusted their hours so the oldest students could work in the factories but still finish high school. Many public schools offered intensive vocational classes, classes that were open to the general public, which taught students the technical skills they needed to work in the aircraft and shipyard industries. Approximately 110,000 people went through these programs.
At the University of Washington in Seattle, many departments quickly adjusted to the needs of the military and the war industry. For example, the chemistry department researched chemical warfare and explosives. The newly established Applied Physics Laboratory worked with the U.S. Navy on weapons projects. The oceanography department worked with the navy and government agencies on secret investigations. The Department of Mines experimented with minerals used in the war industries. The engineering department found better ways of welding ships and investigated aerodynamics in wind tunnels. The foreign language department began offering courses in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian. The home economics department taught students how to prepare huge quantities of food, in case they ever needed to literally feed an army (or any of the other armed services).
Enrollment at the University of Washington and Washington State University in Pullman (southeastern Washington) dropped during the war years; men's dormitories and fraternities emptied out as students enlisted. However, the dorms were soon filled with military personnel who attended special classes set up just for them. For example, at Washington State the Army Signal Corps, Army Veterinary Corps, and Army Air Forces all conducted classes on campus. Like other colleges and universities across the country, Washington's schools had significantly lower enrollments of regular students during the war years. However, at the war's end, in the fall of 1945, veterans, under the GI Bill, began to enroll by the thousands. (See Chapter 5: Wartime Politics.)
Lifestyle changes in Hawaii
Before 1959, Hawaii was a U.S. territory, not a state. However, its residents were U.S. citizens. After the Japanese attacked the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Hawaii's residents faced more-significant daily lifestyle changes than any other U.S. citizens.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, people living in Hawaii continued to work, attend school, and carry out daily activities. However, sun-loving tourists soon gave way to military personnel. Soldiers and sailors were everywhere. Barbed wire barricades lined Waikiki Beach. Women who used to weave flower leis for guests began to weave miles of camouflage nets used to conceal military equipment on the battlefront. Schoolchildren learned how to use gas masks. Air raid sirens regularly went off in Honolulu to signal practice drills and blackouts. Golf courses were dotted with obstructions to prevent enemy airplanes from landing on them.
Residents of Hawaii lived under a state of martial law (military rule), and this was widely accepted as a wartime necessity. Instead of a civilian governor, a U.S. military governor was in charge. From government offices, U.S. military leaders issued rules and laws and ordered all basic foodstuffs for island use. Both army officers and civilians worked within government headquarters to ensure island security. Security was deemed necessary because most residents of Hawaii thought there would be another attack.
For identification purposes all 425,000 residents were fingerprinted. Everyone was immunized against typhoid fever, typhus, smallpox, and diphtheria to prevent epidemics in case of another attack and disruption to regular medical care. Regular American money was replaced with scrip (temporary paper money) to prevent the Japanese from possibly seizing and using American currency. Hawaii's military government officials took other measures and established many temporary laws to ensure safety and order during wartime. Lieutenant Frederick Simpich listed several of the more interesting laws in a National Geographic Magazine article titled "Life on the Hawaii 'Front.'" Published in October 1942, his list included the following rules:
Dogs must be confined during blackouts.
Unemployed men must register for employment.
Owners of pigeons must register them with the military.
One must obtain a permit to buy his ration of one bottle of liquor a week.
Wartime shortages were more noticeable in Hawaii than on the U.S. mainland. Nearly everything was scarce, including food, gasoline, phonograph records, and magazines. Hawaii had plenty of pineapples and sugar but few other crops, so residents depended on ships from the U.S. mainland to bring almost all their basic necessities. However, the military had first use of all ships so that servicemen and their supplies could be transported to Hawaii. Therefore, shipping of civilian supplies was greatly curtailed.
Like people on the U.S. mainland, residents of Hawaii generously volunteered to aid the war effort. Women wrapped bandages for the American Red Cross. Working with the army and local civilian police, Honolulu men formed emergency reserve units that helped carry out police duties. Sugar and pineapple companies, the largest employers in Hawaii before the war, allowed employees time to work on defense projects. Many high school students left school for defense jobs. Some schools shortened their daily schedules so school buildings could be used in the afternoons for war-related purposes, including fingerprinting, vaccinations, and the issuing of food ration books.
Japanese citizens in Hawaii
Approximately 35,000 Japanese aliens (immigrants who hold citizenship in a foreign country) lived in Hawaii in 1942. Many of their children and grandchildren—about 124,000—had been born in Hawaii and were therefore U.S. citizens. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese aliens and Japanese American citizens on the U.S. mainland were rounded up and sent to internment camps (guarded camps built in remote areas of the United States for the placement of Japanese Americans and Japanese aliens during the war). However, most Japanese people in Hawaii remained free to go about their lives. They faced some restrictions for travel, and they could not possess any item considered useful for spying or sabotage, such as guns, explosives, shortwave radios, or cameras. Some on the islands urged a stricter policy, but many believed that the Japanese were so intertwined in the community and the economy that it was neither necessary nor practical to follow the internment policies carried out on the U.S. mainland.
For More Information
Greene, Bob. Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. New York: William Morrow, 1992.
Warren, James R. The War Years: A Chronicle of Washington State in World War II. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.
Klemmer, Harvey. "Michigan Fights." National Geographic Magazine (December 1944): pp. 676–715.
Nicholas, William H. "Wartime Washington." National Geographic Magazine (September 1943): pp. 257–290.
Simpich, Frederick. "Life on the Hawaii 'Front.'" National Geographic Magazine (October 1942): pp. 541–560.
Simpich, Frederick. "San Diego Can't Believe It." National Geographic Magazine (January 1942): pp. 45–80.
Simpich, Frederick. "Wartime in the Pacific Northwest." National Geographic Magazine (October 1942): pp. 421–464.
Reuben Fleet. http://history.acusd.edu/gen/WW2Timeline/fleet.html (accessed on July 14, 2004).