The War – By Jim Evans

March 1998


It was December 8. 1941. We were gathered in the school auditorium for a special news announcement. The entire school was present. The high school students had come dawn from the second floor of the building and all of us grade school students had been called in from the lower levels. Every pupil, every teacher, every staff worker, every neiper was packed into this one large room. In the center of the stage a large radio had been placed on a table. Our principal, Mrs. Iris Johnson, advised us that we had been gathered in the auditorium to hear the president of the United States make an important announcement. At precisely the time expected President Franklin D. Roosevelt came on the radio and announced to the world that the “UNITED STATES of AMERICA HAS DECLARED WAR ON JAPAN! ”

I was nine years old. As soon as we were dismissed from the auditorium, everyone began to talk at once, about the war. Everyone had an opinion as to what this might mean, but no one had even the slightest knowledge of what was to come. For some years Germany had been attacking and overpowering European countries. Gradually, they had conquered many major powers and were threatening to take over England. The United States had been a participant in the war in that we had furnished England with war supplies shipped from manufacturers in America. The United States had considered joining England in their war against Germany, but no one even suspected Japan might become involved. On December the seventh 1941, Japan made a surprise attack on a major Pacific US naval base called Pearl Harbor killing hundreds of unsuspecting Americans_ This had happened just the day before we were called together at school to hear the declaration of war_ A few days after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

America was still in a state of recession when the war was declared in 1941. Most Americans were barely getting by. Times were hard! Financially, America was not ready for a war_ When I begin to try to tell how the war affected me and my family, I find it hard to know where to start.

First of all, every American was affected by the war. The rich, the poor, the young, the old, single people, married people-all shared in the glory and suffered in the misery of the effects of this great military effort called World War II.

One of the first things I remember is that very few 1942 automobiles were sold to the American public. The war effort, in early 1942 quickly stopped all production of automobiles except for military purposes. There would not be any more cars or trucks made, for the American consumer until 1946. But cars were only one of the many things that would not be available in the years during the war. Before the war ended in the summer of 1945, almost everything made of metal would be in scarce supply. Almost anything you tried to buy from a hardware store would be unavailable, or it would be made of such poor quality material that it was practically worthless. Rubber products were scarce as well. Tires for automobiles were rationed and almost impossible to get. New car parts were unavailable. And since there were no new cars to be had, people depended on the junkyards to furnish both tires and parts to keep their old cars running_ Sometimes, a good mechanic could use a welder and make the parts needed, or weld up the old part so it could be used_ A national 35 mph. speed limit was set due to the shortage of both tires and gasoline. And, at this time the roads were in deplorable condition.

The same problems faced the owners of bicycles-no parts and no tires. This condition would come to haunt me in the latter years of the war, for I would find myself depending on my bicycle to carry me endless miles, when I later accepted the job of a newspaper carrier.

When I try to remember the many things that we had to do without during the war, I now realize that I have forgotten. Many food products became rationed and were available only with government food coupons. And, the government was quick to see that every individual in the United States had their own ration book. Sugar, coffee, meat and lard are the only rationed items I can think of now. But, often you would have the coupons to buy an item and there was none to be had. The shelf would be empty! If you did not have sugar, you could not can things like jellies, peaches, apples and etc. We depended on home canned foods to get us through the winter. In those days, even before the war, there were few store bought canned products ever in our house. Quite often during the war the shelves in the grocery stores were only half filled and many of the items available were off- brands of poor quality. Cigarettes, chewing gum, and even candy bars with good brand names were hardly ever to be found.

Another item that was in short supply was gasoline. It also became rationed during the war_ If you drove to work, you were allowed more gas than if you only used your car for pleasure and local trips. Dad hauled passengers to work in Knoxville, so he had to have gas. When he ran short, sometimes one of his passengers would have more gas rationing coupons than they needed and they would share with him. Gas rationing made taking a long trip practically impossible. Of course, with the condition of the old cars and the lack of parts and tires, trips were out of the question except for the very rich.

Shortly after the war started, one day I heard on the radio” Lucky Strike green has gone to war.” The next time I heard this announcement, I listened carefully and they explained that the color used in making the wrapper for their cigarettes packages was to be used in some way for the war effort. Before, they had always had a beautiful deep green package on their cigarettes, but green would never be used again. Hundreds of things like this continued to change even until the war finally ended .

Almost as soon as war was declared on that December day, people I knew were drafted and sent away from home to fight in the battles. At first, they only took the young, the eighteen and nineteen year olds. Many of these fellows were glad to go and serve their country, after all there was not much going on around Powell anyway. All males were forced to register for the draft. They were classified according to age, marital status, number of children and other dependents. The first group had hardly gone when they called up the next group of single young men. Next it would be older single men. The misery of war became evident when the first group of married men had to leave their wives. More misery came when men with children had to leave their little ones to go and fight for their country. Eventually, some younger married men with two children would be called, before this horrible tragic war would end. The movies portray these soldiers leaving their families, girlfriends, wives and children quite well. They show them kissing their loved ones goodbye and waving as the trains were leaving. They watched as their loved one boarded a ship and sailed off to an unknown destination. Many of these families would never be the same. Many men were killed. Many girlfriends and wives strayed while their husbands were gone. Some fell in love with someone new and the boyfriends and husbands in service received “Dear John ” letters revealing the bad news.

Before the war was over, some families would have as many as four brothers away serving their country at the same time. Many mothers kept a candle burning in the window for each boy away in service. To serve in the military was the patriotic thing to do. Therefore, many young boys lied about their age and were able to join the services as early as fifteen. Basic training was short, sometimes only four weeks. Some of these younger boys left high school, joined the service and were dead on a battlefield inside a six week period.

Later, when the men that survived came home, quite often they were not the same. The pain, vulgarity and cruelness of the war had made these innocent young men into a different breed.

This war left it’s impact on us all! And, though I never had to go, even as I write this I am reminded of many of my old feelings of insecurity, sadness, and uncertainty at that time.

Patriotic songs were written for every branch of military service. These songs came over the air continuously. And, if we went to a theater to see a movie, they always showed news reels about the war. The reel would show planes, tanks, or ships in military action while a commentator explained what the reel was about. We talked about the war continuously. It was always on our minds. I remember worrying whether my Daddy might have to go. And, if the war continued, would I eventually have to go! The headlines in every newspaper was about the latest battle. Our church displayed a large banner showing the names of each church member serving in the armed services. We prayed for them every Sunday.

The government needed funds to support the war effort and so they appealed to the American people to invest in War Bonds. We could buy a War Bond for as little as eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents and it would be worth twenty-five dollars in a few years. But, for us who did not have enough to buy a bond, they issued savings stamps. Each of us had stamp books, where we could paste our saving stamps which cost a quarter each. When we got enough stamps in the book, we could swap it in on a War Bond. We purchased bonds and stamps from the post office. Every American was called on to support their country in the war effort. We felt like our lives depended on it. Patriotism was at an all time high! American flags flew everywhere.

During the war, London, England , our closest ally, was bombed almost daily. Enemy submarines were being sunk in the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles off our American shores. It seemed likely that we would be attacked by either Germany or Japan at any moment. Therefore, the government made preparations for that possibility Every city, town and community in the United States was trained to be prepared for air raids. If enemy planes were spotted, air raid warnings would be issued. If the sirens sounded, we were to go to a safe place. If we were at school, we were to go to the basement. If the raid happened at night, the entire nation was to go into a “blackout.” To supervise a “blackout”, “air raid wardens” were selected to cover each section of town to personally see that every light in every house was out. As you can imagine, this took a lot of planning and a lot of people working together. Once the siren sounded, bicycle riders were assigned to head to the outlying areas to be sure that they were complying with the “blackout.” I was too young to be a bicycle warden, but it sounded exciting. My dad was the “air raid warden” in our community. I can only remember one “blackout.” It was only a practice “blackout”. Dad found everyone had their lights out but one family. They were deaf and had not heard the siren. They complied with the “blackout” when he told them what was going on. We all lived in fear!

One of the biggest changes to take place during the war was the change of the industrial environment. Every business was required to give the war effort their first consideration. Almost every manufacturing plant in America was required by the U.S. government to make military products. Local factories in Knoxville became primarily military factories. The clothing mills converted to produce military uniforms. Robert Shaw (Fulton Sylphon), the plant near the present U.T. Agriculture department, produced large bullets for the military. Alcoa Aluminum Company was one the area’s largest military plants providing aluminum for airplanes. The people that worked at these plants were also affected by the war. Some were even deferred from the military draft if they were in a highly critical position of employment. Almost all plant workers found themselves ‘frozen on the job.” To keep people in these critical manufacturing jobs from leaving for higher paying ones, the government enacted laws that would not allow them to leave. They were said to be “frozen on the job.” Many employees during these years went down to the personnel office to turn in their notice only to be told that they could not quit! Throughout the war there would always be a shortage of workers in almost every industry. Not only was the military taking everyone available, but for the first time in ages manufacturing was operating at full production

The production requirements to support a major war brought about one other change in the American work place. For the first time, women were doing the work that previously only men were hired to do. Multitudes of women, some whose husbands and boyfriends were away in service, flocked to the workplace to do jobs requiring manual labor. It was during this time in American history that the term “Rosie the riveter” was introduced.

No industrial change could have been greater than the one that took place just a few miles away from Powell in a place that came to be known as Oak Ridge. Shortly after the war started, a large strategic location in Anderson County was taken over to be used by the government to produce highly secretive military equipment and weapons. The location was chosen because almost the entire area was surrounded by water. This would make the area easier to protect. No planes were allowed to even fly over the area. Guardhouses were erected at every entrance to the city. These entrances became known as gates. Just over the bridge on Oak Ridge Highway was the Edgemore Gate and the Elza Gate was on the highway leading to Clinton. There were several other gates on the other side of the city. Not only was the entire city enclosed and protected with guards and fences, inside, the plants also had their own guardhouses and gates. The people living in Oak Ridge were completely separated from the outside world. Government housing quickly sprung up. Cheap flat top houses were erected all over the residential areas. Some apartment houses resembling army bunkhouses also were erected inside the new city. Two or three small shopping areas were also developed. Oak Ridge became the “secret city!” Every worker was sworn to secrecy. Thousands of people moved into the new city from all over the United States. The biggest industrial change was the manufacturing plants. These plants were built to government specifications. Nothing was spared in making these the most up to date facilities in the world.

The Oak Ridge plants would become the largest employer in East Tennessee almost immediately. Throughout the war these plants would operate three shifts day in and day out. To staff these plants required thousands and thousands of workers.
Incidentally, these jobs paid top wages. reople moved into the Knoxville area to work at these plants by the thousands. Since, we were close to the Oak Ridge area, Powell was almost overrun by workers looking for a place to live. People rented spare rooms. Old garages were made into cheap apartments. Mobile homes were pulled in behind houses. Complete mobile home parks sprung up over night. One of these was situated exactly where the Travis Food plant is now located on Clinton Highway. At this location there was over fifty mobile homes at times.

When Oak Ridge started, Clinton Highway was a narrow concrete two lane highway. Although, there had never been a traffic problem on this highway, with the coming of these new plants, there was now. The entire highway would be rebuilt in short order to accommodate these plants. I carried papers daily on this highway as it was being redone. Sometimes, if I happened to be there when they were changing shifts, I would have to wait what seemed like twenty minutes to get across the highway.

Another aspect in regard to this new influx of commuting workers was their means of transportation. Since automobiles were in short supply and many people of that time did not have cars, there would come on the scene the most farfetched bunch of vehicles that I have ever seen. Every morning and evening at shift changing times Emory Road would be saturated with these ancient buses painted in all sorts of weird colors. Some of these buses looked like the ones used in England. But, others looked like they were from old„ junkyards. Also, carload after carload of workers would be traveling Emory Road to work at the Oak Ridge plants. These people probably came from towns farther East like Corryton, Rutledge, and Maynardville.

The new people coming in, changed our community. They were from different parts or the country and did not have the same morals that most Powell people possessed. They were often abrupt, rude and possessed the characteristics of a mobile society. Since they did not live anywhere long, they did not attempt to fit in when they landed. Many new children would appear in our school almost every week. Some stayed for years. Some left in a few days.

It was August 14, 1945. The war had now been going on over three and one half years. Recently, two of the most powerful bombs ever heard of had been dropped by America on the Japanese killing thousands and thousands of people. Bombing had been going on through the war but nothing like these bombs! These were atomic bombs! Quickly
the Japanese surrendered. THE WAR WAS OVERIIII!  ( I was now thirteen years old)

Later we learned that something called the ” Manhattan Project” had been one of the main functions of the mysterious secret city – Oak Ridge. The mission of the “Manhattan Project” was to help develop an atomic bomb that might be effective in ending World War II. It did that!

Almost as soon as the war was over the boys started coming home. They would gather at a little restaurant (sandwich shop) in Powell called Sharp’s Restaurant. They had many stories to tell. Some about the battles they were in, but many about their adventures. They were not the naive boys that left Powell a few months back. Now they cursed in almost every breath and bragged about how many beers they could drink without getting drunk. Most of them were now chain smokers. Uncle Sam had seen that they would have free cigarettes all the time they were in service. I would sit for hours and listen to them tell their stories and watch them play cards. Day after day they gathered and talked. They needed to unwind and try to settle back into a civilian world. These veterans would be receiving government pay for several months while they rested and then started to look for work. Most guys who left when they were eighteen or nineteen, still lived at home with their parents, but their parents would not have any control over them now. They had been trained by the army to be tough and as mean as necessary. Many of these fellows continued to hang around the restaurant and play the pinball machines until their money ran out. Finally, when they went to look for work there were no good jobs. The times of full employment and good government jobs were gone.

As I said before, the war left its impact on us all. America’s men would be fascinated with guns, and wars for generations to come. Those of us of the World War II era still hold a deep patriotism to our country. You see, we once went to bed listening for the roar of airplane engines – knowing well the fear of a possible invasion

( This paper was written at the request of my daughter Jan. She has asked me to write telling of my early childhood memories. So, this is how I remember World War II.)

(Written by Jim Evans in March 1998 another of “My Stories”)


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