In the years 1939-1941, at the behest of President Franklin Roosevelt upon urging from retailers, Thanksgiving was celebrated a week earlier, on the third Thursday in November rather than the fourth. As a result, some referred to the earlier celebration not as Thanksgiving, but as Franksgiving. The week change was intended as an economic stimulus measure that would create a longer Christmas shopping season and increase retail in the time of the Great Depression. Some states refused the change and celebrated at the usual time, while a few states celebrated both dates.
For the first Thanksgiving during WWII, in 1942, Roosevelt returned the holiday to its traditional week. The hit 1942 film, Holiday Inn, remarked on the confusion surrounding the date of that year’s Thanksgiving—even the turkey is confused. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans was certainly hopping during the war. Seventy years ago today on 2 October 1942, New Orleans jazz legends trumpeter Bunk Johnson and clarinetist George Lewis recorded Big Chief Battle Axe for WSMB broadcasting station (New Orleans’ first professional radio station founded in 1925).
On September 25, 1942, upon the recommendation of the U.S. War Manpower Commission, Commissioner of Education John W. Studebaker announced the launch of a nationwide initiative ‘designed to mobilize secondary school students for more effective preparation and participation in wartime service.’ This voluntary organization, aimed at the country’s more-than-six-million students attending some of its over-28,000 high schools, was called the High School Victory Corps and was conceived to prepare young Americans for service ‘in the armed forces tomorrow through learning in the classroom today.’
More than a patriotic or extracurricular service group, the High School Victory Corps program emphasized an entirely supplemental war-time education, complete with its own uniform, insignia, physical fitness regimen and command structure. In order to participate in the High School Victory Corps, students – both male and female – were required to enroll in a war-effort class (such as first-aid, marksmanship or navigation), pass a physical fitness inspection and volunteer in at least one extracurricular wartime activity. For their uniform, Victory Corps members were issued service caps embroidered with the Corps insignia and service patches indicating the focus of their wartime course work. Physical fitness, through sports and military drill, was considered a special focus of the program as draft officials at the time were alarmed by the growing number of recent enlistments declared unfit. National leadership of the High School Victory Corps was entrusted to its National Policy Committee headed by Captain “Fast” Eddie Rickenbacker, a WWI fighter ace and Medal of Honor recipient.
The High School Victory Corps program proved extremely popular during the two years of its existence, with a wealth of pamphlets and instructional policy guide books being produced and issued to schools and teachers. The High School Victory Corps program was also groundbreaking for its time by allowing participation from both white and African-American students a full decade before public school desegregation.
Today, The National WWII Museum honors the contributions made by the High School Victory Corps through its Victory Corps young volunteer program, which takes the wartime program as its namesake and seeks to continue its seventy-year-old mission of service and education with the students of today’s generation.
Post by Collin Makamson, Red Ball Express Coordinator at The National WWII Museum
Seventy years ago today, on 24 August 1942, a young girl in New Orleans was thanked in a letter from the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS). Betty’s entertainment efforts were highlighted in our 2009 special exhibit, Entertaining the Troops. Below are images of Betty and some of the costumes she donated to the Museum. She and the other young girls in the troupe from the famed dance academy in New Orleans, Lelia Haller School of Dance, wore these costumes while dancing for servicemen to Carmen, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Ravel’s Bolero .
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Office of War Information (OWI). Its purpose was to centralize the many information services of the United States government and create a single line of communication about the war to the American public. The OWI created and distributed posters, booklets, photographs, radio shows and films designed to improve morale and boost patriotism, encourage people to participate in the war effort and, most importantly, control all information Americans received about the war.
The Office of War Information created a propaganda machine that controlled all war-related information given to the public. Images and news reports were censored. Propaganda was created. Government approved ideas were included in films, radio and advertising. Anything that negatively impacted the war effort or damaged morale was removed from public consumption.
Photographers were sent across the country to document Americans doing patriotic work. They photographed workers at factories and on farms, children gathering scrap for the war effort, men and women in uniform, and social change in the form of positive images of women and African Americans – everyone “doing their bit” for the war effort.
Propaganda posters were everywhere. They encouraged Americans to join up, plant a Victory Garden, stay quiet, work in factories and on farms, watch out for the enemy (everywhere) and, most of all, support the war effort. A spokesperson for the OWI said, “People should wake up to find a visual message everywhere like news snow – every man, woman and child should be reached and moved by the message.”
Images distributed by the Office of War Information. Click to enlarge.
Instructions for loading propaganda shell with leaflets
Office of War Information
Safe conduct pass created by OWI/PWD (Psychological Warfare Division)
Propaganda Poster of Nazis Stabbing the Bible
African American worker at the Richmond Shipyards
Young boy uses ration book for first time.
Radio programs, newsreels and films were an essential part of this propaganda machine. Elmer Davis, the OWI Director in 1942, said of this process, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized.”
This war of information was not limited to US shores; enemy troops in Europe and the Pacific were also targeted. Leaflets, newspapers in foreign languages and magazines were used to demoralize enemy soldiers and encourage them to surrender. The Psychological Warfare Division (which worked with OWI and the Office of Strategic Services) also distributed soap, matches, sewing kits and seed packs with anti-Axis messages and pro-American images.
Many in Congress did not like the operation of the Office of War Information on US soil and by 1944 most of its work was done overseas. It was shut down in September of 1945. Many Americans were never aware that their war was fought not just on the battlefield but at the movies, in their favorite magazines and on the factory floor.
German attempts at sabotage and espionage in North America led to several arrests without the successful completion of any of the objectives.
Most people think of the U-boat as only being a highly efficient ship-killer, but it also supported espionage, intelligence gathering and sabotage operations throughout the war. These missions were carried out at points throughout Europe, on the coast of Africa, within the Arctic Circle and even in the Americas. Before the end of the war, U-boats made landings in North America on six separate occasions.
The first landing occurred on May 14, 1942, when U-213 put Abwehr agent Alfred Langbein ashore near the village of Saint John on the Bay of Fundy coast of New Brunswick. Langbein spent the next two years in hiding without doing any spying at all before finally turning himself in to Canadian Naval Intelligence in Ottawa in September 1944.
Before dawn on June 13, 1942, U-202 put four saboteurs ashore near the village of Amagansett, Long Island as a part of Operation Pastorius. Three nights later, U-584 landed another group of four saboteurs near Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The two groups were to use explosives to destroy railroad bridges, defense plants and factories crucial to US military aircraft production. The Long Island Group made their way to New York City where the team leader George John Dasch decided to turn himself in. Because of his cooperation the FBI was able to round-up the remaining saboteurs. All eight men were convicted of espionage by a military tribunal in Washington, DC. Six were executed by electric chair on August 8, 1942. The other two were ultimately deported back to Germany in 1948.
The fourth landing occurred during the night of November 9, 1942, when U-518 surfaced in Chaleur Bay in eastern Quebec and put Abwehr agent Werner von Janowski ashore near the village of New Carlisle. With his unusual clothing and foreign accent, Janowski stood out among the Québécois like a sore thumb, resulting in his arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police the next day.
The fifth and perhaps most interesting landing began early in the evening of October 22, 1943, when U-537 anchored in Martin Bay just south of Cape Chidley on Canada’s Labrador Coast. The following morning, personnel from the U-Boat assembled an automated weather station on a hill overlooking the bay. The station functioned for only a day before mysteriously falling silent.
The final North American landing occurred when U-1230 put ashore Abwehr agents Erich Gimpel and William Curtis Colepaugh at Hancock Point on Frenchman’s Bay, Maine shortly after midnight on November 30, 1944. Gimpel and Colepaugh (a native born American) were given the ambitious task of infiltrating the aviation industry and the Manhattan Project. The agents made their way to Portland, Maine and then on to New York City where Colepaugh lost his nerve and turned himself in to the FBI. Gimpel was arrested soon thereafter bringing Germany’s final attempt at espionage in North America to an unsuccessful conclusion.
A view of U-537 anchored in Martin Bay on the Labrador Coast of northern Canada
Image Courtesy of Earl and Elaine Buras, 1999.060.007
Seventy years ago today, on March 28, 1942, Delta Shipbuilding Co. in New Orleans launched its first Liberty ship, the SS William C.C. Claiborne, named after the first governor of Louisiana. Delta was one of the nine emergency shipyards established in 1941 by the United States Maritime Commission. Delta would launch a total of 187 Liberty ships (out of 2,710 produced overall) during the war. The average time it took to build one of these massive ships was two months.
Curious about how World War II impacted the celebration of Christmas on the Home Front? So were we! In honor of tomorrow’s holiday, we’ve put together a list of fun yule-tide facts.
Fewer men at home resulted in fewer men available to dress up and play Santa Claus. Women served as substitute Santas at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and at other department stores throughout the United States.
During World War II Christmas trees were in short supply because of a lack of manpower (to cut the trees down) and a shortage of railroad space to ship the trees to market. Americans rushed to buy American-made Visca artificial trees.
Travel during the holidays was limited for most families due to the rationing of tires and gasoline. Americans saved up their food ration stamps to provide extra food for a fine holiday meal.
Posted by Gemma Birnbaum, Digital Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.