Posted in Historical Sites, History, Research, WWII

Oak Ridge – Secret City of WWII

My research into Tennessee’s contribution to WWII is not complete without a chapter on Oak Ridge, undoubtedly the largest and most significant war project in Tennessee. And the most secretive.

The first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. The uranium isotope U-235 used in that bomb was produced at the Clinton Engineering Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Yet a mere three years before that ominous event the town of Oak Ridge and its massive plants did not exist.

Much has been written about the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. There are the scientific aspects and the military aspects. But my interest lies in the people – who they were, where they came from, how the war affected their lives, what their lives were like at Oak Ridge, and of course the possibilities of romance.

Recently I read two books about Oak Ridge that provided fascinating insight into the town and the people who lived there. “City Behind a Fence, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 1942-1946” by Charles W. Johnson and Charles O. Jackson tells of the origin of the town and how the people lived in Oak Ridge. “The Girls of Atomic City, the Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan recounts the stories of several women who worked at Oak Ridge during the war while relaying the tale of the progress of the atomic bomb during the war years. Both books are fascinating and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in Oak Ridge.

City Behind A Fence

In the fall of 1942 the Army Corp of Engineers began acquisition of 59,000 acres in Roane and Anderson counties, about twenty miles from Knoxville, Tennessee. With no negotiation, the Army informed land owners that their land was to be taken for a government project and gave them from two to six weeks to vacate. No information was provided about the project. When Tennessee Governor Prentice Cooper learned of the government actions construction was already under way.  He was understandably furious and accused the Army of establishing a New Deal experiment in socialism disguised as a war project. This sentiment persisted among people of the area for years.

All types of workers made their way to Tennessee to work at Site X for the Clinton Engineering Works or one of their contractors. The original estimate of 13,000 residents grew until the population reached 75,000 in 1945 making Oak Ridge the fifth largest city in Tennessee. Recruitment advertising for workers was of necessity intentionally vague. Scientists and construction workers, guards and secretaries, and many more traveled to an unknown non-existent destination to work on a war project. Soldiers preparing to go overseas were reassigned to the project with no explanation. Many young women from Tennessee and the surrounding states sought the good paying jobs without questioning what they would be doing. To these workers the secrecy of the project meant it was important to the war effort.

Johnson and Jackson describe the development of the town of Oak Ridge, with planning for housing, shopping, schools and recreation. As the demands of the project grew the challenges of running a town increased, especially with the tight security. With housing a constantly increasing need and continuously under construction, many workers lived off-site and either drove or rode the extensive bus system to and from work. The Oak Ridge bus system became one of the largest in the entire country. Housing within the reservation consisted of pre-fab single-family homes, small apartments, dormitories, trailers and hutments.

This is only a sampling of the fascinating information in the book “City Behind a Fence.” Definitely worth the read.

The Girls of Atomic City“The Girls of Atomic City” is also fascinating and well worth the read. Kiernan tells the stories of several women from different places doing different jobs all brought together in this one very unusual place. The writing style resembles that of a novel with plenty of personal detail and emotions from the viewpoint of the women themselves. Two secretaries, a leak tester, a chemist and a statistician are some of the ladies who tell their stories of a place where the one question they couldn’t ask a new acquaintance was “where do you work?” Limits on what could be discussed didn’t prevent friendships from forming or romances from blossoming.

Kiernan alternates chapters about the women with chapters about “tubealloy,” the code name for uranium. As in a mystery or thriller, Kiernan unveils the story of the scientists, the research and the conversion of theory to production under the pressure of war.

The locals often commented on how much material went into the site and nothing came out, no planes or ships or tanks or anything. Another memorable feature of the town to those who lived and worked there was the mud. Everywhere the workers went, the mud covered shoes and trousers identifying them as being from behind the fence.

Information was so compartmentalized that workers only knew what they needed to do their job. Very few knew the overall purpose of the project and the veil of secrecy prevented any open discussion or speculation. So most were as surprised as the rest of the country when President Truman announced that the bomb had been dropped on Japan and mentioned Oak Ridge’s contribution.

Both books provided me with much food for thought as I craft my love stories during World War II. Don’t be surprised if Oak Ridge shows up in a future romance novel.

On a personal note I will share my small connection with Oak Ridge. In the 1950’s my uncle worked at Oak Ridge. As children my sister and I spent a week with our cousins there and had a wonderful time. We had no idea of the significance of the place. We just knew if was very different from the small town where we grew up. When our parents came to get us, I remember my uncle driving us to the gate.  Flanked by fences, guard towers, and armed guards, even to a small child it was ominous and memorable. Our parents spoke of the high security at the facility but it was much later before we understood the significance. A later visit to the American Museum of Atomic Energy explained some of it. I still have my souvenir from the museum – an irradiated dime. They told us the dime would always be radioactive but it would diminish over the years. A simple way to explain radiation to kids. My uncle transferred to the facility at Los Alamos and my sister and I were lucky enough to go there for a visit, too.Irradiated Dime


Posted in History, Research, WWII

Ream General Hospital, Palm Beach, Florida

The beautiful Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, was known as Ream General Hospital from 1942 to 1944 when the property was taken over by the U. S. Army. Not many people know that little piece of WWII trivia. My father was stationed there in 1944 as a rehab specialist and my parents told us stories about their time in Florida. We visited the hotel one summer in the 1950’s. It was closed for the season and we were able to walk around on the grounds. I doubt anyone could do that now without getting a room.

If you search online you can find out the basic facts about Ream General and the Breakers Hotel, but not much detail. My parents saved some papers and mementos from the war era and in searching through them I came across some interesting information not available online about the Breakers Hotel and its short stint in the Army.Ream Orchestra Program

One of the documents I found was a musical program for the Ream General Hospital Orchestra. During WWII even musicians served in the military and many orchestras were organized for entertainment. The orchestra program I found gives a brief biography of the orchestra leaders and lists each orchestra member and who they had played with. This was the era of the big bands and these musicians had played with some of the best, such as Artie Shaw, Paul Whiteman, and Woody Herman. The men behind the program were Lt. George L. Walker, Special Services Officer and Director of Athletics and Recreation,  PFC Vick Knight, writer and producer, Pvt. Ted Klages, arranger and conductor, and PFC Howard Determan, dance band conductor. They performed a variety numbers from a “Show Boat” medley by Jerome Kern to a violin solo of “Estrellita” to a saxophone solo of “Body and Soul” by the previously mentioned Howard Determan to a Dixieland number called “The Blues.” Some of the other numbers were “Moonglow,” “Minuet in G,” “GI Jive,” Begin the Beguine,” the “Anvil Chorus,” and “Texas Polka” written by Vick Knight.  An autographed copy of the sheet music for “Texas Polka” is in my parents papers. The finale was a service medley of “Marines Hymn,” “You’re in the Army Now,” “The Caissons Go Rolling Along,” “Anchors Aweigh” and “Army Air Corp Song.” It must have been quite a show.Breakers Walk Grounds

In the papers are newspaper articles about Ream General that reflect the opposition to closing the hospital and turning the hotel back over to its owners. The War Department was accused of yielding to pressure from the Florida East Coast Railroad and hotel interests who wanted paying customers utilizing the hotel rather than wounded soldiers. A spread in the PM Daily Picture Magazine on March 27, 1944, includes an editorial by I. F. Stone entitled “Keep the Breakers for a Hospital Until Our War Casualties Are Known.” Mr Stone complains of the bureaucracy closing the hospital when its occupancy had increased from 700 to 1,000 patients between January and March. He points out that the facility which specialized in treatment of facial, head and nerve injuries and neuropsychiatric cases had a unique combination of special medical facilities and year-round sunshine that could not be equalled. Everyone expected the Allies to open another front in Europe and Mr. Stone proposed keeping the hospital open until the Army had a better idea of how many casualties to expect.

Another article, “Davies Gives Estate as GI’s Face Breakers Ouster,” tells of Former Ambassador and Mrs. Joseph E. Davies placing their famous Palm Beach estate, Mar-A-Lago, at the disposal of wounded soldiers being treated at the Breakers Hotel. As stated in the article several other Palm Beach property owners and some prominent physicians protested the reversion of the hotel to the railroad and hotel interest by sending telegrams to Senator Harry S. Truman (Remember this was in March 1944, months before the Democrat was put on the ticket as Roosevelt’s Vice President).Breakers Dental Clinic

This same article included a triple-page spread of photos. They include an operating room and a series of photos of doctors making a mould of a patient’s damaged face to facilitate plastic surgery. Other pictures show men exercising on one of the hotel patios, soldiers on crutches walking the grounds and lounging on the Breakers’ “fabulous fountain” and the once sunny promenade converted to a modern dental clinic shielded by black-out curtains. Shots of famous Palm Beach residents Gloria Baker Topping and Lucille Vanderbilt of the Red Cross and Margaret Emerson, hospital “Grey Lady,” join pictures of patients in the exercise room and on the beach. A headline above the photos reads “Palm Beach’s Best People Want GI’s to Stay.”Breakers Red Cross


A final newspaper article dated August 22 is headed “Army Scored for Abandoning Hotel.” It states “The Senate War Investigating Committee declared the Army’s original acquisition of the luxurious Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach, Fla., was “high-handed and arbitrary” and its recent decision to abandon the property is “not justified by the facts.” It continues “The Army has announced that the hotel, now being used as the Ream General Hospital, will be abandoned on September 1 and returned to the owners by December 14.” The conclusion seems to have been that although the decision to acquire the property was flawed, the decision to abandon it was worse.  The Army stated that “to replace the hospital beds it had placed in operation a barracks type hospital at Camp Atterbury, Ind. … which in location and general construction does not compare with the Breakers.”

The controversy over the hotel/hospital sounds like one of the many issues we hear about today, Senate investigation and all. We don’t think of these type controversies in relation to World War II but reading newspapers of the day will reveal many such issues were hotly debated.

Some of my favorite war stories are about people helping other people. In Palm Beach the local residents rallied behind the wounded GI’s and the medical staff taking care of them. My father told of how these rich people graciously opened their homes to the soldiers. Many locals volunteered with the Red Cross, the Grey Ladies and in the canteen they set up for the military personnel. The Breakers Hotel proved to be an excellent place for a wounded soldier to recover.

I apologize for the quality of the photos. Newspaper pictures do not scan well, especially old ones. Below are photos of my dad while he was stationed at the Breakers/Ream General.

Vernon at Pool Palm Beach 1944Vernon on Beach 1944


Posted in History, Research, WWII

June 6 – D-Day 70th Anniversary, But what else was happening?

The 70th anniversary of D-Day is approaching and many of us will commemorate that history-making event, but the invasion of Europe was not the only thing happening in the days leading up to and right after June 6, 1944. A world-wide war did not come to a stand-still for one event regardless of its momentous implications. So I decided to research and find out what else was going on.

Where was my father-in-law and the others in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion? They were at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, training on their M-7 track-mounted 105 mm guns and on small arms. After May 1 all furloughs had been discontinued in anticipation of orders to ship out. Fortunately for me, those orders were delayed and local passes continued. Had they not been my father-in-law and mother-in-law would never have met. They were married on June 20, 1944, after knowing each other only twelve days. Orders to leave Camp Campbell for a secret destination finally came on June 23. The battalion traveled by train to Camp Shanks, N. Y., for shipment overseas. They sailed for England on July 1, 1944.Paul and Earlene Whitaker

Despite the build up of troops in England prior to D-Day, many remained in the U.S. awaiting overseas orders. Once the invading forces established a beachhead, additional soldiers and equipment would be needed to retake Europe.

In June 1944, the 97th Infantry Division was training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. As a soldier in the 97th, my uncle Roland Roby would not sail for Europe until February, 1945. He later went to Japan as part of the occupation forces.

Meanwhile, my uncle, D. T. (Boots) Knight, was on the other side of the world fighting the Japanese. The 947th Field Artillery Battalion in support of the 41st Infantry Division landed on Biak Island, just north of western New Guinea, on May 27, 1944. Approximately 11,000 Japanese troops defended the island and its airfields. Prior to the landing, intelligence indicated only 4,400 Japanese were on the island so the campaign proved more difficult than anticipated. The island was not fully taken until August. The 947th received a commendation for their firing on Biak. Prior to the Biak campaign the 947th had been part of the Hollandia campaign on New Guinea in April and May.  They would help to retake the Philippines beginning in October.New%20Guinea%20Map2[1]

Today many think of the war against the Japanese as a naval war. Naval battles did take place throughout the Pacific. Ships of the U.S. Navy also delivered the men and equipment to the far-flung islands. Once on land the U.S. Army did as much of the fighting as the Marines. The war against the Japanese was divided into two separate commands. The Pacific Ocean Area Command under Admiral Chester Nimitz included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands. In the Southwest Pacific Theater General Douglas McArthur commanded an area that included the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo and the western portion of the Solomon Islands.

In looking at the map I am amazed at how close the Japanese came to invading Australia. In June, 1944, the Japanese still controlled vast reaches of the Pacific as well as territory on the Asian mainland. The U. S. had pushed them off Guadalcanal in 1942-43 and in joint operations with the British fought for control of New Guinea throughout 1944 allowing McArthur to return to the Philippines in October 1944.

While the Allies were battling to hold the beachhead in Normandy, the U. S. Navy took on the Japanese in the battle of Saipan on June 15, 1944. Then from June 19-21 the Battle of the Philippine Sea raged.

In Italy, the liberation of Rome came on June 5, 1944, after a long, drawn out fight up the boot of Italy. Despite the surrender by the Italians in 1943, the Germans would not relinquish their hold on Italy. After the initial Allied landings on the Italian peninsula at Salerno in September 9, 1943 the Allies fought their way north. With a second landing further north at Anzio in January 22, 1944, the Allies hoped to cut off the Germans. Instead they dug in to the mountainous terrain. The battle around Monte Cassino raged from January until mid-May. When it finally fell the road to Rome opened to the allied advance with its liberation on June 5, 1944. But capturing the Italian capital did not mean the Germans would surrender. The fight in Italy raged on as the Germans pulled back into the mountains. They fought ferociously and did not surrender to the Allies until April, 1945.

On June 9 Stalin launched an attack on Finland. On June 10 in Oradour-sur-Glane the Germans locked 642 French men, women and children in a church and burned it to the ground in retaliation for resistance activities in the area. On the same day in Distomo, Greece, members of the Waffen-SS killed 214 civilians for the same reason. On June 20 in India the three-month siege of Imphal is lifted forcing the Japanese to retreat into Burma. The heavy losses of this defeat marked the turning point of the Burma campaign.

As you can see, in June 1944 war raged around the world. It would take another year of hard fighting before the Germans and the Japanese were defeated and peace returned to our planet.


Posted in Historical Sites, History, Research, WWII

Nashville and Middle Tennessee During the War Years

I grew up in Middle Tennessee and heard stories about the Second World War all my life. I thought I knew a lot about what went on the area. I have been using places in Tennessee as settings in my books or as background for my characters. To ensure that I was accurate and to add depth to the novels,  I researched numerous aspects – from the military presence to industrial plants to medical facilities. Here are a few things I learned, some of which I had not known before I started my research.

Historically Nashville wasn’t as industrial as Memphis or Chattanooga so it’s not often though of in terms of World War II  defense industries. Yet Nashville did produce war materials. The AVCO plant has produced aviation equipment for years. In my research I learned that the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation constructed the Nashville Plant to produce aircraft for the war. The Vultee A-31 Vengeance dive bomber and the P-38 Lightning fighters were the main output. And a third of the employees were women. Another example of how women filled critical roles in industry while the men were in uniform.

This woman is working inside a wheel well, at Vultee-Nashville. She is working on a "Vengeance" diver bomber. From the Library of Congress WWII Color Photograph collection.Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer
This woman is working inside a wheel well, at Vultee-Nashville. She is working on a “Vengeance” diver bomber.
From the Library of Congress WWII Color Photograph collection.Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer

Other Nashville industries were involved in production of war materials. Nashville Bridge Company built minesweepers for the Navy. Dupont supplied synthetic fibers for parachutes; General Shoe made combat boots and Werthan Bag manufactured sandbags.

South of Nashville, in the Columbia area, Monsanto Chemical Company produced phosphorous and Union Carbide produced whetlerite charcoal for gas masks and amorphous carbon electrodes for steel production.

Although I knew about military bases in Middle Tennessee, I never knew much about Camp Forrest or what an important role it played during the war. Situated near Tullahoma, the Army expanded the Tennessee National Guard’s training center in 1940 when the National Guard units were federalized.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor Camp Forrest became home to the Eighth and Eightieth Infantry Divisions as well as a training and induction center for men entering the Army. Numerous infantry, artillery, engineering and signal corps units trained at Camp Forrest.

Ethnic German and Italians, as well as Japanese civilians, were interred at the beginning of the war. In 1942 800 civilians were interred at Camp Forrest. In 1943 German prisoners of war arrived. Approximately 24,000 prisoners were held there during the war and as many as 68,000 were processed through the camp before internment at other facilities. With wounded POW’s in need of medical care, Camp Forrest was chosen for one of three POW Hospitals across the country.

Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. The Layout. Company F, 347th Inf Reg., 87th Inf. Division, stands by for inspection by the Commanding General, Major General Percy Clarkson. (8 May 43) Signal Corps Photo: 164-007-43-989 (Sgt. J. A. Grant)
Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. The Layout. Company F, 347th Inf Reg., 87th Inf. Division, stands by for inspection by the Commanding General, Major General Percy Clarkson. (8 May 43) Signal Corps Photo: 164-007-43-989 (Sgt. J. A. Grant)

Since the terrain of Middle Tennessee closely resembled that of Europe, the area became the site of what were known as Tennessee Maneuvers. Camp Forrest provided logistical support for these simulated combat exercises. Spread over twenty counties, the headquarters for the maneuvers was at Cumberland College in Lebanon. Between 1942 and 1944 hundreds of thousands of troops honed their combat skills in Tennessee – including General Patton’s 2nd Armor “Hell on Wheels” and the 2nd Rangers famous for their assault on Pont-du-Hoc on D-Day. I found a book by Woody McMillin “In the Presence of Soldiers” about the Tennessee maneuvers. It looks like it would be an interesting read. Click here for a good article about the maneuvers and the book.

After the war the Army surplussed Camp Forrest. The Air Force created the new Air Engineering Development Center, later renamed Arnold Engineering Development Center for Air Force General “Hap” Arnold, on the site. Since the war this facility has become the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world.

Another WWII military site in Middle Tennessee was Smyrna Army Airfield. Designated a specialized four-engine (heavy bomber) pilot training airfield, cadets practiced flying both B-17’s and B-24’s while stationed in Smyrna. After the war, the Air Force took over the site and renamed it Sewart Air Force Base for Tennessean Allan J. Sewart Jr. who died in a bombing mission over the Solomon Islands in 1942.

Berry Field, better known today as Nashville International Airport, became an Army Airfield prior to WWII with the 105th Observation Squadron. Later the B-25 Mitchell, a medium bomber, flew out of Berry Field. The Berry Field Air National Guard Base still occupies the site.

The best known military base in Middle Tennessee is Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles.  Camp Campbell was established in 1941 on land that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line near Clarksville, Tn. and Hopkinsville, Ky. During WWII this newly established base trained the 12th, 14th and 20th Armored Divisions and the 26th Infantry Division. And on a personal note, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and their sister units trained at Camp Campbell. My father-in-law was in the 276th AFA and during his training at Camp Campbell he met and married my mother-in-law.

Camp Campbell also housed German prisoners during World War II. Many of these men were utilized by farmers in the area to alleviate the labor shortage. For more information about German POW’s in Kentucky, read “German Jackboots in Kentucky Bluegrass.”

I also researched the medical facilities in Middle Tennessee related to the war effort. Thayer General Hospital in Nashville was one of the Army’s General Hospitals established across the country to treat wounded military personnel. Hospitals in the “Zone of the Interior” were named while those that served overseas were given numerical designations.  After the war the Veterans Administration took over the facility.

Dr. Oliver Carmichael, President of Vanderbilt University, was actively involved in establishing the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps which trained nurses across the country to alleviate the nationwide shortage of nurses. Other Nashville hospitals participating in the Cadet Nurse training program were Meharry Medical, Nashville General, Protestant and St. Thomas Hospitals.

Men and women from Middle Tennessee who were not in the military during the Second World War worked to win the war, too. Farmers stayed behind to raise the much-needed food. Women went to work in various capacities to fill the vacancies the men left behind. Men who for various reasons were unable to serve in the military worked on the homefront. Production ramped up. Belts were tightened. Everyone contributed in some way. Had they not, the Allies might not have defeated the Germans and the Japanese and our world would be very different today.



Posted in History, Research, WWII

WWII Home Front in East Tennessee

Since Tennessee is my home, where my family lived for generations, I use locations in the state for my  World War II love stories. My research has turned up some interesting information about Tennessee during World War Two.

Cades Cove 1When you see the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee it is hard to imagine how the region could have contributed to the war effort, yet Tennesseans in this area did much to win a war being fought thousands of miles away. Not only did their sons and daughters fight in the armed forces but the people at home worked hard to support them. For now I’ll skip over the enormously important Oak Ridge facility and focus on the activities in the rest of the eastern portion of the state.

Many Tennesseans were inducted into the Army just across the Georgia border south of Chattanooga at Fort Oglethorpe. Established in 1902 the fort was the home of the Sixth Calvary. At the beginning of WWII the Army expanded and transformed Ft. Oglethorpe into an Army induction center. In 1943, it became the third training center for the newly established Women’s Army Corps after Ft. DeMoines, Iowa, and Daytona Beach, Florida.  Ft. Oglethorpe also housed Prisoner’s of War.

Chattanooga had been an industrial center prior to the war so its industry naturally converted to the production of war materials. Combustion Engineering produced piping and boilers for ships and other military uses. Air Products Inc. manufactured portable and stationary oxygen generators for both medical and aviation use. Men flying missions over Europe used bottled oxygen to breathe at high altitudes. Heavy duty military tires for jeeps, 2 1/2 ton trucks and half-tracks were made at Mohawk Rubber company. Southern Ferro Alloys Co. produced ferrosilicon for the steel industry. And a new ordnance plant, Volunteer Ordnance Works, was built to produce TNT for war use.01Adjusting-pipes Combustion Eng Chattanooga

Other Chattanooga manufacturers converted from civilian production to war materials. Cavalier Corporation converted their furniture production to ammunition boxes. Chattanooga Stamping and Enameling shifted from making vitrious-enameled products to manufacturing things like gasoline cans, anti-tank mines, and cargo hoist assemblies. A manufacturer of oil field equipment, the Wheland Company, switched to producing 90 mm and 75 mm guns.

Chattanooga’s Baroness Erlanger Hospital trained nurses as part of the Cadet Nurse Corps which the government created to alleviate the shortage of trained nurses. Other East Tennessee hospitals that participated in the Cadet Nurse training program were Appalachian in Johnson City and Fort Sanders, Knoxville General and St. Mary’s in Knoxville.

Just east of Knoxville in Blount County,  the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) had built a plant for smelting aluminum ore in 1913, choosing the site because the Little Tennessee River rushing through the mountains had the potential for generating the enormous amount of electricity needed for the smelting operation. In 1919 the area surrounding the original plant incorporated as the town of Alcoa, Tennessee. By the outbreak of World War II  in 1941 Alcoa already produced light-weight aluminum for airplanes. During the war their production increased by 600% with a work force soaring to 12,000. The North Plant, built in the early 1940’s, was at the time the world’s largest plant under a single roof. Alcoa and their employees contributed much-needed aluminum in various forms for the war effort.

Another important contributor was Tennessee Eastman Corporation. The subsidiary of Eastman Kodak built the Holsten Ordinance Works near Kingsport in 1942.  As a contractor for the US government the plant produced the powerful explosives RDX and Composition B, a mixture of TNT and RDX. During WWII this plant became the world’s largest manufacturer of high explosives.

Tennessee mining operations provided coal which Tennessee Products Corp transformed into coke at their Chattanooga plant. The same company produced ferro-manganese and pig iron at Rockwood. At Copperhill, Tennessee, site of a long-time copper mining operation, Tennessee Copper Company manufactured sulfuric acid for production of TNT.

Elizabethton’s North American Rayon Corporation produced viscose rayon yarn for use in war materials. Made from wood pulp, rayon was considered the first synthetic fiber, although it was made from a natural source.  In Johnson City, Harris Manufacturing Company made shells.

Knoxville industries also converted to war production. Electro Manganese Corp contributed electrolytic manganese, essential for making steel. Rohm and Haas Company built a plant to manufacture methyl methacrylate sheeting or plexiglas for use in submarine periscopes, airplane canopies, windshields, and the bombardier’s nose compartment in the B-17 heavy bomber.B17 Bombardier

Throughout the war the Tennessee Valley Authority generated electricity to power aluminum production, the secret Oak Ridge facility and various other industries across the entire valley. To meet the demand, by 1942 TVA had twelve dams and one power plant under construction. One of those dams was Fontana, completed in 1945. This enormous, 480 ft. high, concrete dam on the Little Tennessee River sits on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Douglas Dam on the French Broad River went into operation on March 21, 1943, after only 12 months and 17 days of construction. Demand for power by both the aluminum industry and the Oak Ridge site spurred the break-neck speed. Other dams that came online during the war years were Watts Bar, Cherokee, Ocoee, Appalachia, Ft. Loudoun, and Kentucky.

Fontana Dam
Fontana Dam

East Tennessee’s citizens served in every branch of the armed forces which left few able-bodied men on the home front to staff the industrial plants and construction sites. Throughout the war industries struggled to recruit and keep employees. Men too old to fight, men who did not meet the physical requirements of the military, African-American men and lots of women, both black and white, worked in the plants. Most of the women had never worked outside their homes before the war. Although the government discouraged employees from moving from one war industry job to another for higher wages or benefits, it was a constant problem. Shortages of materials also plagued the war plants.

While loved ones fought overseas, both patriotism and the chance to make real money after years of depression spurred the workers in East Tennessee to work long, hard hours for a common goal. Win the war!

Posted in History, Research, WWII

Bill Mauldin – Cartoonist in WWII

Humor is the best medicine, relieving tension and anxiety, especially for soldiers at war. As a GI himself, Bill Mauldin understood that. His cartoons tickled the funny-bones of the dogfaces across Europe and those back home during WWII.

Up Front Book Cover
Up Front Book Cover

While serving in the 45th Division in Italy, Bill Mauldin drew cartoons for the “45 Division News.” He was so well liked that it wasn’t long before he became a regular feature in the “Stars and Stripes” (the official Army newspaper). Mauldin’s depiction of the American GI as disheveled, unshaven and disrespectful drew General Patton’s wrath. But Patton’s disapproval couldn’t compete with Bill’s popularity with the troops.

Willie and Joe populated most of Bill’s cartoons. These tired, dirty, bearded GI’s viewed the war from the bottom – be it a mud-filled fox hole or a bombed-out town. Bill often ruffled feathers with his irreverent humor, but it was just what the men needed as they slugged their way through Naples, Anzio, Cassino, Rome and the Italian mountains. Bill’s cartoons rang so true to the enlisted men loved him. So much so that his cartoons were syndicated in papers back in the states and by 1945 Bill published his first book, “Up Front.” For his cartooning talent Bill Mauldin was awarded his first of two Pulitzer Prizes at only 23 years old.

Willie and Joe Book Cover
Willie and Joe Book Cover

“Up Front” is a compilation of cartoons Bill drew for “Stars and Stripes” accompanied by Bill’s narrative of his experiences during the war. Rather than an account of where he was and what he did, Bill vividly described what life was like for a rifleman or dogface, as he called them. He also gives background information for some of his drawings. Most of Bill’s cartoons were set in Italy and Southern France where he served most of his time. And, yes, Bill did fight. His cartooning began as a one afternoon a week assignment. The rest of the time he was one of the suffering dogfaces fighting the war.

Bill Mauldin's Army Book Cover
Bill Mauldin’s Army Book Cover

A couple of quotes from “Up Front” will illustrate some of Bill’s thoughts and ideas.

“I’m convinced that the infantry is the group in the army which gives more and gets less than anybody else. I draw pictures for and about the dogfaces because I know what their life is like and I understand their gripes. They don’t get fancy pay, they know their food is the worst in the army because you can’t whip up lemon pies or even hot soup at the front, and they know how much of a burden they bear.”

“Mud, for one, is a curse which seems to save itself for war. I’m sure Europe never got this muddy during peacetime. I’m equally sure that no mud in the world is so deep or sticky or wet as European mud. It doesn’t even have an honest color like ordinary mud.”

Here’s Bill’s suggestion for understanding an infantryman’s life – at least a little, as stated in “Up Front.”

“Dig a hole in your back yard while it is raining. Sit in the hole until the water climbs up around your ankles. Pour cold mud down your shirt collar. Sit there for forty-eight hours, and, so there is no danger of your dozing off, imagine that a guy is sneaking around waiting for a chance to club you on the head or set your house on fire. Get out of the hole, fill a suitcase full of rocks, pick it up, put a shotgun in your other hand, and walk on the muddiest road you can find. Fall flat on your face every few minutes as you imagine big meteors streaking down to sock you. After ten or twelve miles (remember you are still carrying the shotgun and suitcase) start sneaking through wet brush. Imagine that somebody has booby-trapped your route with rattlesnakes which will bite you if you step on them. Give some friend a rifle and have him blast in your direction once and a while. Snoop around until you find a bull. Try to figure out a way to sneak around him without letting him see you. When he does see you, run like hell all the way back to your hole in the back yard, drop the suitcase and shotgun, and get in.”

My father was a Bill Mauldin fan and he treasured his copy of “Up Front.” I have my father’s book and a couple of years ago one of my grandsons picked it up and started reading. He loved it. I immediately bought him a copy for his very own. (The one I have is a first edition and would not stand up to much handling.) I’m told that my grandson often carries the book with him to read when he has a little spare time. It pleases me that I have furthered his interest in World War II history.

In researching I found several sites with more information about Bill Mauldin. Much as I would like to post some of his cartoons on my website, I don’t want to violate any copyrights so the images posted here are covers for books available on Amazon and other online book sellers.  I have also provided links to sites where you can see a few of his cartoons.

The 45th Division museum has a large collection of Bill Mauldin’s original cartoons. Their website is at

Other websites with information about Bill Mauldin, his life and his cartoons are listed below.

This site shows Bill in the movie “Red Badge of Courage” with Audie Murphy.

Posted in History, Research, WWII

“Letters From A Soldier” & Other Memoirs

When asked where I get my ideas for WWII love stories, I usually say that it started with stories told by my parents and other family members. From there my research has included lots of books, magazine articles, shows on TV, and even old movies. One of the best ways I have found to get into the period is to read memoirs. These personal accounts open a window into the life of an individual – telling his or her unique story. The Second World War affected every person living at the time. Some were drastically changed. Some went to places they had never even imagined. Others stayed home and watched their familiar world change around them. Every reference in later years was either “before the war” or “after the war.”

In researching my current novel-in-progress, I immersed myself in the mindset of the WWII soldier by reading memoirs of men who had similar experiences as my fictional character. After reading many memoirs as well as historical accounts, I have found that memoirs provide more insight into the personal experiences – from their daily activities to what they knew and felt about the war. Letters and journals written at the time convey the emotional state of the soldier. And they record the minor details of life, fertile soil for the fiction writer who wants to transport the reader into the world of WWII.Letters from a Soldier cover

Since I had already decided that my hero served in the First Infantry Division and was wounded soon after D-Day, I searched through the many memoirs available online for someone who served in the First in the early part of the war. I discovered “Letters from a Solider” by William M. Kays. The well-written account provides letters and pictures pulled together by the author’s vivid memories of the events, the people and the locations.

Bill Kays entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant after graduating from Stanford where he went through the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC). Both his letters and his recollections of his early experiences in the Army convey just how ill-prepared the United States was for war. Many of the young officers came straight from college where their military training varied greatly. Others had gone through the Army’s Officer Training Schools (OCS) which were necessarily brief. Kays makes no bones about how incompetent he felt as he boarded the overcrowded Queen Elizabeth for England on August 30, 1942, only two short months after his induction. Once in England Kays was assigned to the First Infantry Division, which was already in England.  Despite the fact that he had no training in combat engineering, Kays became an officer in the 1st Engineering Battalion.

In “Letters from a Soldier” Kays provides a vivid account of training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, of the voyage to England, and of his stay in England and Scotland before shipping out to North Africa. As a writer, his accounts gave me insight about how officers and enlisted men were trained and assigned to various units. In Kays case, he later figured out that in an attempt to get away from Fort Leonard Wood, where he was miserable, he had volunteered for overseas duty. So instead of getting him into another school for training, he landed on the fast track to overseas and combat.

Since I had read very little about the campaign in North Africa or the invasion of Sicily, Bill Kays’ book provided the background I wanted for my character. My story will pick up much later after the soldier is wounded, but I needed a back story. From Kays’ account I can piece together what my character experienced early in the war and how those experiences influenced him later.

The memoir provided details like how long it took for letters to get to the soldiers at various times and locations and that the soldier had to make a request in his letters so that civilians could send him packages for things as simple as cookies or wool socks. The letters also show how his concerns and interests changed over time with interest in what was going on back home dwindling. Vivid accounts of the weather, food, or lack thereof, and living conditions put the reader alongside the soldier. For instance, he gave descriptions of how mud infiltrated everything (yes, even in North Africa, it rains) or how they traded with the locals for eggs to supplement their bland diets.

Kays describes the invasion of Sicily as he watched it from shipboard since his regiment was held in reserve and went ashore later. He tells of watching the naval guns shoot down planes carrying our own airborne soldiers, presumably due to lack of communication between the Navy and the Army Air Corp. One of the many foul-ups during the war, yet one I had not heard before.

Later, Kays gives one of the best accounts of the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach I have ever read. Through his vivid memories the reader experiences the day with him.  As a combat engineering officer assigned to the 16th Regiment, he knew that the beach defenses should have been destroyed before the infantry landed. When he saw them intact, he believed the landing would fail and that they would all be killed. Yet he stepped off that landing craft onto the beach and fought to survive. Little did he know that in the next year he would fight his way across Europe – and live to tell about it.

Other memoirs on my shelf include “Roll Me Over” by Raymond Gantter, “If You Survive” by George Wilson, “A Soldier’s Journal” by David Rothbart, “Visions from a Foxhole” by William A Foley, Jr., “Our War for the World” by Brendan Phibbs, and “One Man’s War” by Tommy LaMore.  All these deal with the war against the Germans.

The war against Japan constituted a whole different experience and, while it was fought largely by the Navy and Marines, many forget that the Army played a big role. My uncle and several others from our small town in Tennessee spent the war in the South Pacific in the Army fighting the Japanese. So ideas are swirling for more stories.

Posted in History, WWII

Patton’s Prayer

Until the movie “Patton” came out in 1970, my husband refused to tell anyone his full name – unless it was absolutely necessary. His grandmother named her first grandson for General George S. Patton, Jr. who she credited for bringing her son home safe. But her grandson was never called George. Instead his middle name was shortened to “Pat.” And that’s the only name most people knew. All that changed when he saw the movie about his namesake. George C. Scott’s portrayal of the famous General George S. Patton, Jr. gave my husband a vivid image of the man whose name he shared. Now my husband proudly tells his full name and the story of how he came to be named for the General.

The movie was also the first we had heard of the famous prayer for good weather that General Patton ordered his chaplain to write. We thought it was a bit of Hollywood embellishment until later when my husband’s grandmother gave us the scrapbook she kept during the war. A little piece of paper was tucked in among the newspaper clippings, maps and ration books. Her son had mailed his copy of the prayer to her and she had kept it all those years.

From my research on the web, Hollywood did use some literary license in how they presented the prayer in the movie. It was actually written before the Battle of the Bulge, not during the battle, and it was sent out to the men in Third Army as a Christmas greeting. Msgr. James H. O’Neill was Chaplain for Third Army and wrote the prayer at the direction of General Patton. The prayer, images of the card sent out and the story behind it can be found at more than one website, including the Official General Patton website.

The Prayer
The Prayer

As the prayer indicates, the weather was an important factor in the outcome of the war in Europe. Bad weather almost cancelled the D-Day invasion and added to the surprise of the Germans. Later a storm in the English Channel destroyed the Mulberry Harbour off Omaha Beach, yet the Allies continued to land men and supplies on the beaches for months after the initial landings. Rain stalled the Allies advance in the fall when they initially reached the German border. Rain and snow hid the build-up of German troops leading up to their counter-offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. The winter of 1944-45 in Europe was colder than they had experienced for many years. Casualties from frostbite and trench foot were common. The ordeal that all the men in all the armies suffered that winter from exposure to the terrible weather added to the misery and desperation of the fighting and prolonged the war.  For the remainder of his life, my father-in-law kept the heat turned up and said he had promised himself he would never be cold again. It is hard for us to even imagine what they went through.

Patton's Christmas Greeting
Patton’s Christmas Greeting

My husband and I treasure his father’s copy of the prayer as a keepsake of his father’s service during World War II. It is a powerful prayer written in desperate times reflecting strong religious beliefs. I, for one, believe it was answered.

Posted in Historical Sites, History

Great Smoky Mountains

Not everyone who visits Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, goes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They go to attend conventions, conferences or to just enjoy the many attractions in the area. But I contend that if they do not go into the park for at least a drive, they have really missed out on the whole reason for going to the mountains. In the park the sheer beauty of nature soothes the soul.  And man has only disturbed that beauty a little – to provide the public access to its wonders.Mountain View 1

Of course, driving through the park in bumper to bumper traffic is no fun. And these days, if you go in the summer or in October when the leaves are turning, the traffic is horrendous, or so I’m told. I haven’t been there during those congested times for many, many years. When you go, choose a less popular time, like September or May, if you can.Roaring Fork 3 Farm

Our most recent visit to the Great Smokey Mountains was in September. The weather was gorgeous and the crowds thin. There was steady traffic on the drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove, but not enough to slow us down or interfere with our enjoyment of the drive. There were no big RV’s or semi’s to block the view. Along the way we pulled over more than once just to smell  the clean, damp air and soak up the peace and quiet.  A camera is a must-have – to capture the scenery and the memories.

Cades Cove
Cades Cove

On this visit we found a new-to-us drive through the park. A one-way loop above Gatlinburg that didn’t take too long to drive and provided some history of the area. Just turn at Red Light #8 (Yes, they number the lights to make giving directions easier) and head up Cherokee Orchard Road until it forks. Take the fork on the right. This leads to a one-way drive called  the Roaring Fork auto tour.IMG_0706

Along the tour we stopped at several points of interest. Some simply gave a view of the mountains.Roaring Fork 1

Some let us experience the forest, the ancient stones and the tumbling waters.IMG_0713

At other stops we glimpsed the primitive homes and difficult terrain where families struggled to make a living and raise their families. Ephraim and Minerva Bales raised nine children in a two-room log cabin.  They somehow found 30 acres of  land among the rocks that they could cultivate.

Ephraim Bales Farm
Ephraim Bales Farm

Alfred Reagan was an enterprising entrepreneur along the Roaring Fork. Not only did he farm, he also ran a store, a blacksmith shop, a carpentry shop and a mill where he used the tumbling waters of the Roaring Fork to grind corn and wheat. He prospered enough to build a “Sears and Roebuck” house for his family.

Reagan House
Reagan House


We only spent a few days in the Great Smokey Mountains this time. Maybe we will go back in the spring and share more of the beautiful landscapes.IMG_20130914_192237

Posted in 276th AFA, Friends, History, Research, WWII

The 276th Armored Field Artillery’s Last Reunion

After leaving I-40 we wound our way along the Foothills Parkway, a crooked, two-lane roadway through heavily wooded mountainous terrain. The quiet beauty calmed us after the nerve-wracking drive crushed between semi’s and the concrete wall dividing the interstate as it snaked its way over the mountains. Our destination awaited only a few miles away in Gatlinburg. We soon reached the congested streets of the vacation mecca atop the mountains. Turning left, we climbed, passing motels and restaurants, until we reached the narrow, steep, winding driveway up to the top where our hotel, the Park Vista, stood overlooking the narrow valley that is Gatlinburg.old friends talk at reunion

This was where the 276th Armored Field Artillery chose to hold their final reunion. The destination for five aging WWII veterans to reunite once more. Time may have reduced their numbers but not their spirits. The dwindling group of veterans and their families were joined by sons, daughters and wives of other, already deceased veterans – all coming together to remember and celebrate their service so many years ago.Mr and Mrs Cross at reunion

My husband was one of those sons of deceased 276th veterans. We were newcomers to the reunions yet we were welcomed into the fold like long-lost relatives. The people who gathered at the Park Vista, related only by the service of a group of young men almost seventy years ago, were the most gracious, most friendly and warmest group of people we have ever encountered.Mr Tyson talks to Pat at reunion

Organized in 1943, the 276th AFA Battalion was one of several artillery units converted to mobile, track-mounted 105 mm Howitzers  (M-7’s) to provide mobile artillery support to infantry and armored divisions. In the summer of 1944, after the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 276th crossed the Atlantic, landed in England, then crossed the channel to France. The Battalion fired its first combat round in September, 1944. From that point they were in continuous combat, battling their way across Europe, until the Germans surrendered in May, 1945. By July, they were again crossing the Atlantic, but this time their destination was home, not for good, but for additional training before being sent to the Pacific. The war with Japan still raged. Fortunately for these combat weary young men, the Japanese surrendered before their unit was redeployed.

The veterans of the 276th fascinated us with their positive, even joyful, attitudes as they answered questions, re-told old stories and remembered their fellow soldiers who had passed away in the intervening years. Sons and daughters shared stories their fathers had told to them.  None of the five were officers. Their military jobs ranged from clerk to radio man to mechanic to driver yet they told stories of bullets that came within inches, artillery shells bursting nearby, encounters with enemy soldiers and freezing weather.

Of the five Batteries in the Battalion, four were represented at the reunion – Headquarters Battery, Battery A, Battery C, and Service Battery. Pictures of earlier reunions, with the participants all decked out in their finery, relayed the history of these events. A map detailed the Battalion’s journey as it fought its way across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Old pictures were perused for familiar faces. Watching a taped interview with one veteran brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Such amazing men who went off to war at such a young age leaving their families and loved ones behind.

Mr TysonMr ThomasMr NarushofThey journeyed from various locales to reunite with old friends. For these elderly men and their wives the trip could not have been easy nor possible without help from their families. The devoted son of one veteran organized the event and, despite his father’s failing health, drove from Indiana so there could be one last reunion. The eldest veteran, at ninety-seven, flew in from Massachusetts accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law. Another man from Georgia brought his wife, children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. And a former Tennessean and his wife were transported from Cincinnati by their son and daughter-in-law.Mr CrossMr Clevenger

The son of a deceased veteran drove down from Milwaukee. This faithful son told of his trip to Europe to retrace the route of the 276th. He and his father, both devoted history buffs, had attended previous reunions and the son had known many of the 276th veterans. They planned to take the European trip together but his father did not live to make it so the son went alone in honor of his father.

Another son, daughter and son-in-law journeyed across the mountains from North Carolina for the reunion. Like my husband’s father, their father never came to any of the reunions. He talked of his service but would never contact any of the men he served with. After his death his son decided to meet some of the men his father fought with so many years ago and participate in the reunions. Knowledgable and friendly, these North Carolinians shared stories from former reunions, of other veterans now gone and reenactments. They generously shared their photos, too.Mr Tyson and James at reunion

The reunion was a special time for the aging men to reconnect and remember their youth. As Tom Brokaw said of the WWII veterans in his book “The Greatest Generation,” these men did not brag about their service. They quietly spoke of events but always expressed that they were just doing their job, doing what they had been trained to do, doing what they had to do. It was touching to watch them talk, and laugh and reminisce about those times.

In their young, formative years these men forged a bond like no other – the bond of combat. And they became our heroes. By doing their jobs, they enabled us, their children and grandchildren, to live the lives in a free, democratic society. They freed the world from the tyranny and dictatorship that threatened to engulf the globe. We so often forget that in 1943 when these young men first came together, the Allies were losing the war and it looked like it would take many years of fighting to defeat Germany and Japan. They had a big job ahead of them but they knew they would win – eventually. That faith in themselves, in this country, was remarkable. And we saw that same positive attitude in the remaining veterans that we met in Gatlinburg.

Too soon it was time to leave. Each of us going  back to our own part of American. I hope we can stay in touch with these wonderful people, each fascinating in their own way. As we drove down out of the mountains and south toward Florida, we agreed that it had been a wonderful experience, a chance to touch the past, to talk with those who had lived it. Too soon they will all be gone, but they will never be forgotten.