Posted in History, Research, WWII

The American Red Cross Overseas in WWII

One of the missions of the Red Cross was to keep up the morale of the military. The Red Cross achieved this mission in numerous ways.

Overseas the Red Cross set up service clubs, some big and some small. Rainbow Corner Club, probably the most famous of these service clubs, occupied a building on Piccadilly Circus in London. It never closed and provided meals and recreation for service men and women. Overnight accommodations as well as barber shops and laundry facilities were also available in the bigger clubs. Anywhere American soldiers were stationed overseas a service club met their needs. In England Aeroclubs provided services to the many Eighth Air Force bases scattered across the English countryside. For the Navy there were Fleet Clubs. The Red Cross set up these clubs in the Pacific Theatre, too. All these clubs were manned by Red Cross “girls” and local civilians.

A new idea became reality when the Clubmobiles, converted busses or half-ton trucks, began driving the English backroads to reach American camps. Manned by three Red Cross girls and a driver the Clubmobiles provided real coffee and freshly-made doughnuts. Most were equipped with a record player and loud speaker to play a wide variety of popular records. The Clubmobiles were so successful they followed the troops onto the continent after D-Day.

All the Red Cross “Girls” who served overseas had to meet rigorous standards. These young women had to be at least 25 years old and college graduates. The intensive interview process essentially determined if the women had the right personality for the job. After passing physicals they went through extensive training in a short time which included, of course, learning to make doughnuts.

If you want to learn more about the Clubmobile girls, read “Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys” by James H. Madison who uses the letters and diary of Elizabeth Richardson. Richardson was a Red Cross Clubmobile hostess who served in England and Europe. She was killed in a military plane crash in France in July, 1945.

And there’s much more the Red Cross did during the war. I’ll cover the rest in my next post.

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Posted in History, My Novels, Research, WWII

The Many Roles of the American Red Cross During WWII

While researching WWII, I kept seeing the American Red Cross involved in a number of areas so I decided to look at what the organization did during that time. I found so much that it will take more than one post to cover everything.

First, a bit of background. The American Red Cross was founded in 1905 and charged with providing “volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the armed forces” and with providing communications between the people and the military. The ARC was also to provide relief from suffering “caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods and other great national calamities.”

That’s a tall order. And it encompasses a wide range of activities. In this first post I’m going focus on some of the Red Cross activities in the medical field.

Red Cross Nurses

The American Red Cross trained and certified nurses for service in the military beginning before the First World War. World War II created a shortage of trained nurses in the United States as civilian nurses joined the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. More were needed as the casualties increased, not only overseas but also in the numerous military hospitals established across the country. On the home front the nurses trained by the Red Cross filled the vacancies caused by military service and took on the medical care of civilians. Also Red Cross Volunteer Nurses Aides and Volunteer Dietitian Aides provided assistance to both military and civilian hospitals. Again, the Red Cross trained these volunteers.

Blood and Plasma

Even before the U.S. entered the war, the American Red Cross began to collect blood and process it into liquid plasma to send to England where the fighting and bombing had created a shortage. Under the direction of Dr. Charles Drew, the African-American blood specialist, that effort succeeded. After that the military asked the Red Cross to set up a Blood Donor Service to collect blood donations and process the blood into dried blood plasma that could be more easily stored and shipped overseas. Dr. Drew headed this up and before the Japanese attack in December 1941 blood donation centers had been set up across the country including a number of mobile units. The dried blood plasma saved many lives on the battlefield and the program served as a model for post-war civilian blood collection.

Gray Lady Corps, Recreation in Hospitals and Additional Supplies to Hospitals

Nurses weren’t the only Red Cross presence in military hospitals. The Gray Ladies were Red Cross volunteers who provided whatever services the wounded men needed. They might play a game of cards or write a letter home, they might run an errand or simply listen to a lonely soldier. The Gray Ladies organized ward parties, set up art exhibits or brought in theatrical performances to hospitals where men were recovering from wounds. The Red Cross set up local councils in the cities where hospitals were located to provide supplies not available through the military. Requests from the hospital went to these local councils who worked with local businesses to provide things like musical instruments, sports equipment, furniture, magazines and newspapers.

In my next novel Kitty’s brother Milton, who was wounded in Normandy, is recovering in a state-side Army hospital where he encounters nurses (many trained by the Red Cross) and Gray Ladies who help him and other soldiers. He also helps with obtaining sports equipment from local businesses for rehabilitating the wounded. In A War Apart after Guy was wounded the medics started an IV before his surgery, most likely from the blood plasma produced by the Red Cross. So you see, my research often included the Red Cross in some way.

My next post will continue with services provided by the Red Cross during World War II.

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Posted in B-17, History, Old Movies, WWII

Twelve O’clock High – The Movie

Movies can inspire and get the creative juices flowing. That’s what Twelve O’clock High did for me, creating a fascination with the 8th Air Force and their part in winning World War II. It is one of my favorite WW II movies, even though there’s no love story. Never the less, parts of my novel, Kitty’s War, were inspired by the movie.

Made in 1949 and starring Gregory Peck, Twelve O’clock High tells the story of an American bomb group flying daylight raids over German occupied Europe early in the war. The characters depict the personal struggles of the pilots and crew who flew these dangerous missions day after day. After the war ended the need to bolster the home-front morale gave way to a need to understand what had happened during the war. Many of the films made in the late 40’s and in the 1950’s were more realistic about the human cost of war.

Twelve O’clock High showed the devastating effects of continuous losses on the morale of the airmen and their leaders. To get morale and performance back on track, General Savage (played by Gregory Peck) took command with such a strict attitude that the men hated him and the pilots all requested transfers. But Savage stalled the transfers because he knew they needed discipline to face the job they had to do. While pulling the outfit together Savage became so personally involved with the men and the missions that he eventually suffered battle fatigue.

In 1942, the American Air Corp bombed German held Europe in the daylight, something the British would not do because it was too dangerous. The RAF bombed at night. The Americans faced intense anti-aircraft fire as well as deadly attacks by German fighters. Neither the Americans nor the British had fighter planes that could fly as far as the bombers so the bombers had no protection from the German fighters except their onboard guns. Later in the war, the P-51 Mustang flew as fighter protection to the target and back.

Although nominated for Academy Awards, the film and Gregory Peck failed to win the coveted award. Dean Jagger won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Major Harvey Stovall, the Group Adjutant who helped Savage win over the men, as well as introducing and ending the film with his reminiscences.

If you love war movies filled with action and tension, then Twelve O’clock High fills the bill. It is truly entertaining and informative. If, like me, you enjoy a little romance mixed it, this may not be what you are looking for.

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Posted in 276th AFA, Family, History, My Novels, Research, WWII

Oak Ridge in A War Apart and Personal Memories

The city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created in 1942 when the U. S. Government bought up a large section of land along the Clinch River in Anderson county for a secret defense project. Construction began immediately after the residents of the area were moved off the property, much like the Tennessee Valley Authority had done when they bought up land for dams. Many locals, as well as people from all over the country, went to work building what would become plants that separated uranium-235 to be used in the first atomic bomb.

Between 1942 and 1945 the population of Oak Ridge grew to 75,000 residents with employment at approximately 82,000. The plants ran continuously to produce the Uranium 235 needed for the secret project and construction struggled to keep up with growth. After the war ended these numbers fell drastically. By 1950 the City of Oak Ridge had a population of 30,205, still fifth largest in Tennessee. Employment decreased, too, especially in construction. But the plants continued to run producing the fuel for the atomic age.

In my latest novel, A War Apart, my heroine, Rosemary, took a job at Oak Ridge to support the war effort, earn some money and, most of all, to get away from home. She worked in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant which used one method of separating Uranium-235 from Uranium-238. Her cousin, Martha Sue, worked in the Y-12 electromagnetic plant which used a different method for separating Uranium-235. Neither woman, nor any of the workers, knew what they were making because secrecy about the project was of highest priority.

In the 1950’s when I was a young child, my uncle worked at Oak Ridge. My sister and I visited for a week. Our cousins showed us around the area where they lived and played, then on the weekend, when our parents came to get us, my uncle showed us around Oak Ridge. All I remember is the car stopping in front of a big metal gate and Uncle John saying that was as far as we could go. When I was older, our family returned to Oak Ridge and went to the Atomic Energy Museum. I still have a dime that was irradiated there.

As I learned more about Oak Ridge I found the story of its origin fascinating. That such a highly technical and highly secret plant could be built and run in rural Tennessee sounded implausible, if not impossible. Yet it really happened. Later, I learned that many of the women who worked at Oak Ridge during the war were young women from Tennessee with no special training, just a willingness to work and follow directions. So, of course, one of these young women had to be the heroine in one of my stories. When my character, Rosemary, needed a job, Oak Ridge provided the perfect place for her to work.

In doing research for my novel, A War Apart, I primarily used three books for my research on Oak Ridge. They were “City Behind A Fence” by Charles W. Johnson and Charles O. Jackson, “Images of America Oak Ridge” by Ed Westcott, and “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan.

Posted in 30th Infantry Division, History, Research, WWII

A Train Near Magdeburg

A few years ago my husband and I drove down to the Camp Blanding Museum to meet with Frank Towers, a WWII veteran of the 30th Infantry Division. We had met Frank on a previous visit but we didn’t have enough time to really talk to him. That day Frank told us about the train near Magdeburg filled with Jewish refugees that elements of the 30th liberated. The Jews were being moved from Bergen-Belsen to another concentration camp when the train stopped on the tracks near Magdeburg. Frank wasn’t with the liberators on that first day but he arrived the next day with orders to find housing and provisions for the refugees.

Having learned about the train from someone who was there, when I saw Matthew Rozell’s book, I had to read it.

A Train Near Magdeburg by Matthew A. Rozell is a fascinating account of both the people on the train and the American soldiers who came across the train as they fought their way through Germany. On April 15, 1945, the 743rd Tank Battalion discovered a long string of freight cars parked on a railroad track. As they came closer to inspect the train they found almost 2,500 Jewish refugees packed inside the filthy cars or hanging around the area near the train.

Rozell started with a project on the Holocaust for the high-school teacher’s students. They set up a website and began interviewing both survivors of the Holocaust and soldiers who had liberated camps. One of those soldiers told of the day his tank battalion came across the train. That soldier connected Rozell to another soldier who had made pictures that day. When the pictures were posted on the school’s website, people from all over the world responded.

The book is the result of all the interviews and research. It is a detailed account of events in April, 1945, and later when Rozell brought many of these people together, both liberated and liberators, in several reunions. The book has several sections. First, the Holocaust section contains interviews with survivors describing their experiences in the German concentration camps. The second section tells about the American soldiers in their own words. Third, the story of the actual liberation. And fourth, the reunions are described by all participants. Finally, Rozell added an Epilogue which tells of the loss of Frank Towers, the last of the liberators and the end of an era. 

Posted in B-17, History, Research, WWII

Two Memoirs of WWII Airmen

Through the COVID pandemic I’ve been reading – a lot. Two books I read were memoirs by WWII flyboys. I thoroughly enjoyed both. They were “From Farm to Flight to Faith” by Bernard O. DeVore and “A Measure of Life” by Herman L. Cranman.

Bernard O. DeVore served as the Flight Engineer on the Picadilly Special, a B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew out of Paddington, England, as part of the 325th Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. For those who have read my previous posts, there were two WWII veterans in my hometown who were also part of the 92nd Bomb Group and flew out of Podington, Tom Brewer and Everett Holly.

Herman L. Cranman served as Bombardier on a Consolidated B-24. He flew with the 376th Bomb Group, part of the 47th Bomb Wing of the 15th Air Force, near San Pancrazio, Italy. After being established in Tunisia in 1943, the 15th Air Force moved into Italy as the Allies advanced from Sicily onto the Italian peninsula.

The two memoirs are very different yet have much in common. Both men wrote about their service later in life. While DeVore kept his story shorter yet consise, Cranman provides lots of details in a much longer book.

As I mentioned DeVore flew in a B-17 bomber while Cranman flew in a B-24. DeVore, as part of the 8th Air Force flew in the same airplane, the Picadilly Special, with the same crew for all his missions. The 15th Air Force, for which Cranman flew, rotated the men between whatever aircraft was available for each mission. Their crews were also not necessarily the same on each flight.

Another difference between the 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force I learned about from Cranman’s memoir was the way they counted missions. The 8th Air Force originally required each airman to complete 25 missions. This requirement was increased to 30 missions in June 1944 and to 35 missions later. The 15th Air Force required 50 missions, but certain missions counted as two while others counted as only one.

Another important difference between the two stories was that DeVore completed his thirty missions and returned safely to the United States in early 1945. Cranman’s aircraft was shot down over Hungary on July 14, 1944, and he spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War.

Both memoirs included the story of how they met and “courted” the love of their lives. These stories were my favorite parts. DeVore met his love when he and a buddy picked up two girls on the way to the beach near Tampa, Florida, while he was in training. They married before he went overseas. Cranman realized that a girl he’d known since childhood had stolen his heart before she moved away. All through the war and his incarceration he worried that she didn’t love him like he loved her. When he finally got home he discovered that his parents had arranged their engagement on his behalf. So they were married soon after the war.

Do you see why I love reading memoirs? Every one is different, yet so interesting. I highly recommend both these books.

Posted in History, My Novels, Old Movies, Research, WWII

Our Mothers’ War by Emily Yellin

I am always interested in women’s experiences during World War II so I was excited when I found the book “Our Mothers’ War” by Emily Yellin. This book turned out to be the best and most comprehensive book I’ve read on all aspects of women’s participation in helping to win the Second World War.

Yellin covered all the roles we normally think about – from wives and mothers waiting at home to defense workers doing their bit to women in the military. She also included other roles we often forget – like politicians, spies, prostitutes and many more.

In my first novel, Kitty’s War, my heroine joined the Women’s Army Corps and served in England and France. My next novel, A War Apart, which will be available later this year, the heroine worked in a ship yard and then a secret defense plant. In my third novel, the heroine is an Army Nurse. As you can see, I have covered several roles women took on during the war. What others will I choose?

“Our Mother’s War” has given me some ideas for future characters. Examples might include women who worked for the Red Cross, which offered many opportunities. Women worked in canteens providing companionship and dancing partners as well as food and drink. Others volunteered in hospitals helping with the wounded. The Red Cross sent packages to American prisoners of war as well as to soldiers and refugees. Women put these packages together, much like the workers in food banks today. Red Cross workers could volunteer to go overseas where they set up clubs on American bases overseas. Others worked in “club mobiles” which were vehicles equipped to make coffee and donuts and to play American records to troops close to the battlefield.

Another possibility might be a young woman working on her family farm while most of the men were off in the military. In her book, Yellin points out that the United States had their own Women’s Land Army. We’ve heard of the English version, but I didn’t know about the American one until I read Yellin’s book. Women made a sizable dent in the labor shortage on the farm.

You’ve probably seen the movie “A League of their Own.” That’s another way women contributed to the war effort. When men’s baseball couldn’t field a team, women stepped up in parts of the country to provide that athletic entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, women did everything from movies to radio broadcasts to all-girl bands to entertaining the troops in USO shows.

Women were also used as spies both in the United States and abroad. Women were dropped behind enemy lines to help resistance forces. Many others served in the government in various capacities from Congresswomen to code breakers to linguists.

The more we look the more roles we find that women took on. In my writing I lean toward the ordinary women who did extraordinary things, yet remained out of the spotlight. Almost every woman in the country did something to help the war effort.

Posted in History, My Novels, WWII

A War Apart Cover Reveal

I am so excited to reveal the beautiful cover of my upcoming novel, A War Apart, which will be available later this year. Watch for an announcement.

Anger at her cheating husband spurs grieving war widow Rosemary Hopkins to spend an impromptu night with an overseas-bound soldier. Fearing her small hometown will discover her secret, she makes him promise to not write her. Yet she can’t forget him.

Eager to talk to a pretty girl before shipping out to fight the Germans, Guy Nolan impulsively implies they’re married and buys her ticket. The encounter transforms into the most memorable night of his life when he falls for a woman he will never see again.

While Guy tries to stay alive in combat, Rosemary finds work in a secret defense plant and a possible future with another soldier. Will she choose security or passion? Can she survive another loss?

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Posted in History, WWII

Can We Compare Coronavirus Pandemic to World War II?

Are we in a war with the Coronavirus? Some say we are and, although it’s not the same, I can see a few commonalities with World War II.

A lot of people may not know that at the beginning of WWII there were severe shortages of weapons. Draftees and Federalized National Guard troops had to train with wooden sticks as rifles and trucks as tanks. It took months for American industry to convert over to war production.

We were not prepared for war then and we were not prepared to combat this virus.

Today, we have shortages of personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers. We don’t have enough ventilators for critically ill patients. We don’t have enough tests. Some industries have converted from their normal production over to production of medical equipment and protective gear for the front line medical workers, like General Motors making ventilators, Carhartt and Hanes making gowns and masks. Many distillers have switched from making alcoholic beverages to antibacterial hand sanitizer. Others companies, like 3M and Kimberly Clark, are working around the clock to produce masks, but there will still be shortages until industry can catch up to the demand.

The people who have jumped in and are sewing cloth masks remind me of the people who rolled bandages and conducted scrap drives during World War II. People gathered up anything that could be reused for war materials, from paper to cooking oils to rubber to metal, because they wanted to help in some way, just like the seamstresses are today.

During World War II to ensure that enough raw materials went to industry for manufacturing war materials, strict rationing went into effect. Things like meat, butter, sugar, clothing, shoes, rubber, and much more were rationed. Production of consumer goods ground to a halt as industry shifted to making airplanes, guns, tanks and ships. Today some goods are becoming hard to get. These goods are not going to war production, rather we are either not manufacturing them because plants are shut down to keep from spreading the virus or we are not importing them due to the Coronavirus related shut downs overseas.

Hoarding and price gouging were also problems during World War II. Back then it wasn’t toilet paper. It was food. A thriving black market developed between people obtained goods illegally and those who had money and were willing to pay any price. If you were caught selling goods on the black market, you went to jail. In recent months, people trying to price gouge to make a profit selling hoarded items have found themselves in legal trouble as well.

During WWII people were separated from their loved ones but in a different way than what is happening now. Men and women serving in the military were sent far from home first for training and then into combat. Other Americans moved to places where they could work in defense manufacturing, leaving home and loved ones behind. People waited patiently for the mail to arrive bringing news from a far away loved one.

Finally, death is another similarity. Soldiers died far from home. If they were lucky, a friend was with them. Today Coronavirus victims die alone without family and friends at their side. Almost every household in America lost someone during World War II. The way this pandemic is going everyone in America probably knows someone with the virus. And before it is over, many of us will know someone who died from it. That is the saddest comparison of all.

Just like during World War II, we are all in this crisis together. Our weapons are social distancing and hand-washing. Meanwhile we wait for better, more effective weapons to treat and prevent this terrible disease that has invaded our country.

Posted in History, Research

Yellow Fever Epidemic 1878

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic I thought of the epidemics we experienced in the past, particularly a story about an epidemic in my hometown back in the 1800’s.

To see where I first heard this story I pulled out my copy of “A History of Houston County, Tennessee” by Iris Hopkins McClain. For those of you who have this book, the account begins on page 45. I will transcribe it here for those who don’t have this book.

“On July 18, 1878, the steamer John Porter left New Orleans and came up the Mississippi. The outcome of that trip had far-reaching effects in Houston County. This ship brought the dread disease yellow fever to Memphis and in turn to Houston County when some hospital cars from Memphis were side-tracked in Erin. This was a fearful illness and caused panic. The local editor was to remark that “some of our people have not acted as they should.”

The skin of yellow fever victims turned yellow, there was a great deal of hiccuping, and eventually a black vomit that had an unbearable stench. Victims usually died in a little while. Yellow fever played no favorites. Of every three persons stricken,two died and the third mysteriously recovered.

Some people fled Erin, but the plague followed them to the country. Business came to a standstill as “nobody felt like doing any business.” Arlington had been quarantined from Erin to prevent the spread of the disease to that place. Armed me were said to have stood on the outskirts of Arlington ready to shoot anyone from Erin who tried to pass through the “picket” line. The quarantine was not effective as Ed Schroibor,  I. F. McMillan, Mike Kelly and Kelly’s young son became ill with the disease.

A local theory had been advanced that a limestone quarry was “sure protection” from yellow fever. The editor announced, almost with glee, that Fred Williamson, who had a lime kiln and quarry, had fallen to the disease and this disproved that theory.

The Howard Relief Train, under the direction of a Dr. Hunter, visited Erin early in October and left nurses and supplies to the stricken people.

The frosts came in mid-October and the plague soon ebbed away. By October 19 there had been seven people to die in the county of yellow fever including M. M. Stanfill, C. S. Humphreys, and Mrs. M. M. Stanfill. Mrs. G. W. Simpson was reportedly dying. Those on the convalescent list included Dick Rushing, Randal Hankins, and Walter Hagler. Those ill at the time of the first frost were Mrs. G. E. Rauscher, Ira Rauscher, Mrs. Klein, and M. F. Shelton.”

For a little background, it was not known that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes until 1900. There were no antibiotics at that time and no effective treatment. If you contracted the disease, you either lived or died.

The Howard Relief Train was organized by the Howard Association of New Orleans to follow the Louisville & Nashville Railroad with doctors and nurses to aid the stricken communities. To read more see an article in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle by Melissa Barker.

In reading this account I couldn’t help thinking of what we are going through today: the panic, the unknown, the attempts at quarantine, social distancing, fleeing the infected areas as some are doing now, closing of businesses.  Today we hear some wild theories about cures or ways to protect yourself that strangely mimic the past. So over a hundred years later, we as humans react in similar ways to what they did back then.

We also reach out to help those in need. The local doctors and citizens of Erin attempted to help those people left in train cars on a siding to die. A doctor from Erin died of yellow fever, much like those health care workers of today who have contracted COVID-19 and some have died.

For more articles about the Yellow Fever epidemic in Tennessee read the following: The Yellow Fever Epidemic on the Tennessee State Library and Archives blog, Yellow Fever Epidemics in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, Yellow Fever in Tennessee in the Tennessee Magazine.