This series of articles began last weekend in remembrance of December 7, 1941, “A Day that will Live in Infamy” in the history of this country. That descriptive phrase was first spoken by President Franklin Roosevelt as he told the nation of the extensive destruction caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Facts about that day from The Library of Congress website report that 2,300 Americans were killed, the U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed, the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized, 21 additional ships were sunk, beached or damaged, and more than 160 aircraft were destroyed, with more than 150 others damaged.
President Roosevelt was correct. December 7, 1941, is a day that will live in infamy.
While the date brings to mind the massive devastation, it also brings to mind the spirit of resolve and unity shown by the American people.
These articles give first-hand accounts of the determination of local citizens to do their part on the home front. The memories of those at home during those years help us understand how they supported the war effort.
Learn American history from the memories of Charlie Carney, Billie Vaughn Fine, Ralph Green, Lois Sharp Hall, Bill Hilleary, Helen Green Morgan, and W.E. Robinson, all children and teenagers during the war.
Today’s article will describe scrap metal and rubber drives, victory gardens, war bonds, local wartime production, and will give a glimpse of Bill Hilleary’s journey from adolescence to military duty.
Scrap Metal and Rubber Drives
During World War II scrap metal was in demand for recycling. It would be used in the production of airplanes, ships and other war products. Children were encouraged to collect scrap metal as a part of their contribution to the war effort. Billie Fine, Helen Morgan and Charlie Carney all told that admission to a movie was the reward for scrap metal contributions. Billie said that she and her sisters searched the creek bank near her home looking for any bits of aluminum. Helen remembered her mother allowing her to take the horn from her family’s battery radio for her contribution. She also remembered Mrs. Ethel Phillips (local photographer of that day) coming to the school on two occasions to make pictures of the students by their pile of scrap metal.
Rubber for recycling was also needed. “I remember a wire cage on the Court House lawn for the collection of rubber. I gave a little rubber airplane by throwing it over the wire fence that formed the cage,” Ralph Green said. To a little boy, it seemed like a tall fence.
Those on the home front were asked to “Sow the Seeds of Victory” by growing a victory garden. Families in both urban and rural areas were encouraged to grow vegetable gardens to provide fresh and canned vegetables for their family throughout the year. This practice would allow commercial production of vegetables to be allocated to the military and to starving citizens, particularly those in Europe.
The families of most of those interviewed grew large vegetable gardens even before the term “victory garden” was used. W.E. reported, “We did not live on a farm, but we always had a garden…My mother ‘put up’ everything; she canned and pickled. She would go to the cellar to get a jar or a can when she cooked our meals.” Exactly the intent of the victory garden program!
Billie Fine was the first to talk about war bonds. She was quick to say that bonds which sold for $18.75 were redeemed for $25 after 10 years. Helen Morgan remembered her mother buying a bond for her and another for her sister. Bill Hilleary, an adolescent during those years, reported using his own money from teenage jobs to purchase his war bonds. Responses indicated an individual awareness of the nationwide effort encouraging citizens to support the war financially.
Conversion of Local Manufacturing
Manufacturing plants in Rhea County made major changes in their production to support the war effort.
A newspaper clipping from the history files of Robinson Manufacturing announced the awarding of a $15,311 military contract for “50,000 cotton drawers.” According to W.E., “Robinsons began making men’s boxer underwear for the military. We were awarded military contracts. The military specs were rigid, and my father worked to engineer the garments and be certain that we consistently met military specs. This was the foundation of many of our company’s future quality and manufacturing processes.” Plant records show that 88% of manufacturing during the war years was war-related products.
Southern Silk Mills in Spring City also adjusted its production in order to supply needed wartime fabrics. Bill Hilleary’s father, William, owned and operated the mill during those years.
Prior to the war the mill’s main product had been knitted rayon fabric. The high-quality fabric was used in the production of luxurious lingerie in Spring City. The fabric was also sold throughout the country for use in similar manufacturing.
Then Southern Silk Mill began producing and selling an even more delicate fabric for women’s gloves. Need for the new fabric was the result of the halt in European production due to the war already raging there. The Spring City mill was a leader in the U.S. in the production of the specialized glove fabric.
With the U.S. entrance into the war, fabric production was altered again. Under military contract, the mill began producing a heavier textile for use in making soldiers’ gloves. Southern Silk Mill had an additional military contract for the manufacture of fabric for mosquito netting. When discussing the mill’s production during WWII, Bill made it clear that it was his daddy’s desire to do what he could for the war effort.
It wasn’t just in the mills that locals were turning out war-related products. Two of Billie Fine’s aunts used their skills to hand knit sweaters. They became a part of the highly organized knitting program sponsored by the American Red Cross. A standardized pattern, yarn and knitting needles were provided to volunteers. Completed garments were collected, packed and shipped by the organizers. By the end of WWII Red Cross volunteers had produced more than 19 million sweaters in homes across the country.
Billie remembered the boxes and boxes of “dull green yarn” that were delivered and the warm garments that were collected. Her aunts enlisted Billie’s younger sister, Janie to follow the knit and purl pattern. Their aunts did the more tedious work of attaching sleeves and finishing seams. The volunteer knitters were another example of Rhea Countians ready to do their part for the war effort. The garments provided not only warmth for the soldier’s body, but warmth for the soul as they “felt” the love and support from the home front.
Many of the memories I heard had to do with shortages or sacrifices. Bill Hilleary told that he was in high school during the war years. The school principal decided that in response to the need to save paper the school would not have a yearbook his senior year.
Numerous experiences during Bill’s high school years inspired his resolve to join the military. He wanted to be an airplane pilot. Right after high school, Bill attended Riverside Military Academy in Gainsville, Georgia, but he still had that desire for active military service. He wanted to become a part of the Army Air Corp and was actually sworn in at Ft. McPherson in Georgia, but was instructed to return to the military academy. He called it a “Wait and See” response from the officials in charge. Eventually Bill went on active duty with basic training on the beach in Miami and in the airfield at Marianna, Florida. When the war ended in September of 1945, Bill was on training maneuvers from the military base in Amarillo, Texas. Bill was the only individual of those interviewed for these articles who became a World War II veteran.
In Rhea County, it was individuals, school groups, families, and manufacturing plants, both owners and workers, taking needed action to support the war effort. Patriotic activities became their daily routine exhibiting individual commitment, group sacrifice, and industrial response to a nation depending on the loyalty of its citizens.