In September of 2015, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Even though it was not fought on American soil, Virginia offers many reminders of the war and its heroes with sites like Arlington Cemetery in Arlington and the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. As the year comes to a close, we want to take a minute to look back at some of the roles Virginia played in what we all hope will be the last conflict of such magnitude.
World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, the same year that the Great Depression was coming to a close in the United States. While military leaders and strategists could see the writing on the wall, many Americans hoped that the conflict might pass them by. In Virginia, we had slowly started to recover from the depression, many farmers were working on Farm Security Administration farms and jobs were being created. However, with the bombing on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States government could no longer avoid the inevitable and soon after, we entered the war.
Virginia has a long and proud military history, dating back to the earliest days of colonization. With a large number of military bases, installments and airfields in the state, World War II brought a great deal of activity to Virginia. Not only did thousands of Virginia men leave home to serve, countless women and children stepped up to provide support for the war efforts.
The following images show a small portion of what Virginia gave to the war effort here on our home shores.
1. The Sunset Village housing project for defense workers at the Radford powder plant, October 1941.
With the possibility of war looming on the horizon, the U.S. government began ramping up production of wartime supplies, including gun powder. A large gun powder plant opened in Radford, causing a massive influx of workers and creating a severe housing shortage. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) had been formed as part of the New Deal to provide federal aid to families in need during and just after the Great Depression. As such, they provided as many as three different housing projects in Radford to house workers and their families.
2. Children of a defense worker play in the yard outside of a home in Radford’s Sunset Village, October 1941.
Thousands of workers came to Radford in the 1940s. At first, many came alone, but eventually with steady work and an increase in housing, they were able to send for their families.
3. U.S. military officers listen to a lecture while attending the School of Military Government at the University of Virginia, April 1943.
In 1942, the U.S. Army created a School of Military Government to train military officers for the issues that inherently arise when occupying foreign territories. The first of these school began at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, but between May 1942 and February 1946, the program grew to include 10 universities around the country. The program graduated more than 1,000 officers in a total of 18 classes. Most graduates were from the U.S. Army, but other graduates included Navy and Marine Corps officers, as well as members of the United Nations from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland.
4. A committee of 10 officers assigned to study Japanese political administration analyze tactical problems at the University of Virginia’s School of Military Government in Charlottesville, April 1943.
Students of the military schools assisted tactical and operational forces of the United States, as well as U.S. allies like Italy, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.
5. Sergeant George Camblair completes an obstacle course as part of his training at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, September 1942.
A large part of the United State's preparation for World War II was the engineer training program at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County. The base expanded as U.S. involvement grew and training programs became more creative and rigorous. One of the most innovative training exercises to come out of Fort Belvoir during the war was the obstacle course. Invented by Brig. Gen.William Hoge, obstacle courses simulated field conditions that helped recruits train for how to handle themselves and their equipment in actual combat situations. The first course at Belvoir was built in the spring 1941 and soon, military installations around the country had adopted this highly effective training strategy.
6. A soldier trains to use a gas mask in simulated exercises at Fort Belvoir, September 1942.
In addition to learning how to use equipment like gas masks and bayonets, soldiers were taught marksmanship, field tactics, how to throw grenades and how to make up their field packs.
7. An infantryman takes a break from training to look at photos of his family kept in a wallet, November 1942.
Many soldiers at Fort Belvoir were far from home as they completed their training and prepared to go even farther away.
8. A group of African American infantryman rest during training exercises, November 1942.
Although the Army was not officially integrated until 1948, well ahead of integration in schools and other parts of general society, many African Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, laying the groundwork for later civil rights’ efforts. The soldiers shown here were part of an Engineer Corps regiment at the fort.
9. Military trainees form a makeshift band to pass the time during training at Fort Belvoir, January 1943.
Of course, even soldiers needed to let off steam now and then. Here, a group of soldiers form a musical trio, including Private Thomas Cavallaro, a first generation Italian American, on the trumpet.
10. Students gather around a bulletin board at Central High School, Charlotte County’s all-black high school in Charlotte Court House, June 1943.
No one escaped the effects of the war, not even students. Fliers for war efforts like “Victory Gardens” and war bond sales decorated many school bulletin boards throughout the state.
11. Students gather for the awarding of the Victory Corps insignia at Randolph Henry High School in Keysville, June 1943.
The High School Victory Corps was established in September 1942 by the Commissioner of Education John W. Studebaker. Its purpose was to “mobilize secondary school students for more effective preparation and participation in wartime service.” Open to male and female volunteers, the goal was to prepare students for service in the armed forces through classroom training, as well as supplemental activities. The corps came complete with its own uniform, insignia, physical fitness program and hierarchy of command.
12. Students attend first aid lessons in the dispensary at Randolph Henry High School in Keysville, Charlotte County, June 1943.
For admission into the Victory Corps, students had to enroll in a war-effort class (i.e., first-aid, marksmanship or navigation), meet the physical fitness requirements and volunteer in at least one extracurricular wartime activity.
13. Boys eat lunch at Randolph Henry High School in Keysville, June 1943.
With World War II beginning barely two years after the Great Depression, resources that had been decimated during the depression remained thin. Many students in rural areas could not afford to buy lunch. Instead, they would bring produce from their family farms for which they would be given tickets to redeem for lunches. Lunch cost around 15 cents and included items like yams, macaroni and cheese, fruit, deviled eggs, dessert and milk. Only milk was free and students could have as much as they wanted.
14. A display in a store window reminds the residents of Waynesboro about the importance of conserving and recycling worn-out parts and supplies during the war, 1942.
With metal becoming an increasingly important, and therefore scarce, commodity, organizations like the labor-management committee of the E.I. DuPont DeNemours plant in Waynesboro would provide promotional materials to help citizens recognize which parts and supplies could be conserved and re-used by highlighting their potential uses.
15. On Monday, October 5, 1942, the school children of America, including a large contingent in Virginia, were organized to collect scrap metal for the war effort. Here a mother and daughter in Roanoke raid the attic to see what they have to give.
The nationwide effort created a junior army that would assign groups of children to certain parts of the community. The “junior commandos,” as they were called, would have regular meetings and scrap collection events, as well create storage and shipment procedures.
16. Children gather “scrap” metal from homes in their Roanoke neighborhood and collect it as a contribution to the war effort, October 1942.
As this image shows, nothing was safe from the patriotic efforts of civilian war supporters. Here, you can see bedsprings, coal buckets, bird cages, stoves and various other household items. The children and their families were motivated to help provide guns, ships, and ammunition desperately needed by their sons, brothers and husbands fighting on the front lines.
17. A teacher at Gainsboro Elementary School in Roanoke talks about how a used tire can be recycled to make as many as 12 gas masks for soldiers, October 1942.
Fifth grade teacher Nettie Traynham teaches her student the responsibility of scrap collection and resource conservation as part of a nationwide effort to support the troops.
18. A sixteen-inch Howitzer machine gun is put into position by soldiers stationed at Fort Story in Virginia Beach, March 1942.
Because of its coastal position, Fort Story was a main point of American homeland defense during World War II. In 1941, before the start of the war in the United States, the Headquarters of the Harbor Defense Command had been moved from Fort Monroe to Fort Story and two additional harbor defense installations had been built to create a heavily fortified coast artillery garrison.
19. A soldier gets into the defense position on the beach at Fort Story, March 1942.
For soliders stationed at Fort Story, part of their training was learning how to defend the coast from naval attacks. This image shows that no one, not even soldiers, wants to wear their shirts at the beach.
20. Mrs. Marjorie Landa, daughter of the late Congressman Frank Mandell of Wyoming, makes repairs on the engine of a Pennsylvania Central Airlines DC-3 transport plane at Washington National Airport in Arlington, August 1942.
Many women recognized the need for womanpower in fields previously dominated by men during World War II. Many women like Marjorie Landa enlisted in factories and as airport workers. Landa enlisted in the Washington National Airport repair crew following her second year at Sweetbriar College after spending two months at a vocational training school.
21. Eighteen-year old Evelyn Spangler works as a welder and repairwoman as part of the repair crew at Washington National Airport in Arlington, August 1942.
Evelyn Spangler learned how to weld from her father in Christiansburg. After attending a vocational school in Manassas, she joined the Washington National airport crew as an acetylene torch welder and according to her supervisor, was just as accomplished as any of the men.
22. Formerly a seamstress in a laundry, Mattie Marks drives a “gas buggy” to transport baggage from the Washington National Airport baggage room to the planes, August 1942.
Another example of how women served during World War II, Mattie Marks left her role as a seamstress to fill the vacancies left by men who had gone off to war. In the end, these types of jobs ended up opening a new world of employment for women and laid much of the foundation for women’s liberation movements in the 1960s and 70s.
23. A flight maintenance crew services an A-20 bomber at Langley Field, July 1942.
The A-20 bomber (and its many models and variations) was an American built light attack bomber used during World War II by a number of Allied air forces, including the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, France and the Netherlands.
24. A bombardment squadron waits next to a YB-17 bomber while awaiting instructions at Langley Field in Hampton, May 1942.
Now known as the Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Langley Field was one of 32 of Air Service training camps created at the start of World War I. In the 1930s, Langley Field served as a key part of the U.S. Army’s efforts to build the U.S. Air Force. By 1940, just before America’s entrance into World War II, the small field in Hampton became a major airfield of the United States Army Air Corps and many of the buildings that still exist today were constructed at this time.
25. A soldier mulls over his income tax return at Camp Lee in Richmond, 1943.
Despite the demands of service, even soldiers had to do their income taxes. Here, Private Jack Lewis holds his head in frustration as he plows through the complexities of a tax return. During World War II, Camp Lee (now Fort Lee) was the site of a Quartermaster Replacement Training Center (QMRTC), as well as a Medical Replacement Training Center (MRTC).
26. An out-of-control A P-40 military airplane begins its spiraling descent towards unsuspecting military musicians at Camp Lee, 1942.
The plane, which can be seen in the distance, continued its spiral, coming dangerously close to hitting the musicians. The pilot, flight officer Clayton W. Huntsman, died when he ejected from the plane, but had managed to steer it so that it missed the musicians and no other lives were lost.
While many veterans of World War II have passed on, many Virginians remember clearly what it was like to grow up during a war. Do you have special experiences or memories of World War II that you would like to share? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.