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.
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.
Today, May 1, is my mother’s birthday. Had she lived, she would have been 100 years old today. It’s hard to believe that this beautiful, intelligent, vibrant woman has been gone for fifteen years. I miss her still.
Elnora, a child of the depression, graduated from Erin High School in 1934. The next-to-youngest of nine children, who lost her father when she was only four years old, Elnora didn’t have much growing up. What she did have was imagination and a sense of adventure. In the late thirties when her older sister needed help, Elnora boarded a train in tiny Erin, Tennessee, and traveled to New York City alone. She made her way to her sister’s home in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn and while she was staying there she journeyed to Niagara Falls before returning home to Tennessee.
My parents married in 1938 and after a brief stay in Detroit, they returned to make their home in Tennessee. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Daddy enlisted and after training he was assigned to the Coastal Artillery near San Francisco. My always-eager-to-travel mother again boarded a train and traveled across country to join him in California. She described the trip as an adventure. When she recounted changing trains in Bakersfield, CA., she said she had to walk a long way carrying her own bags to catch her next train. Some nice soldiers helped her and even years later she expressed her gratitude for their kindness.
During the war my mother followed my father across the country getting jobs wherever they were stationed. She returned to Tennessee when he went through his medical training in Illinois, then joined him at his first hospital assignment in Asheville, North Carolina. Later he was transferred to a hospital in Palm Beach, Florida, which turned out to be the converted Breakers Hotel. Before the end of the war, when Ream General Hospital (The Breakers Hotel) was closed, my father was sent to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, GA. That’s where my sister was born which necessitated my mother returning home to Tennessee to await my father’s discharge.
The love of travel never left my mother. As we grew up we didn’t have a lot of money so we’d go visit her many relatives who lived across the country. We visited her brother in Oak Ridge Tennessee and explored the Smoky Mountains. We drove to the coast of Georgia to stay with her older brother who lived right on the beach on St. Simon’s Island. Other times we went to south Alabama, the panhandle of Florida and Akron, Ohio, to visit her sisters. One of her sisters lived in Sitka, Alaska, and she always talked of going to visit her but sadly she never did. She did however, visit a cousin in Boulder, Colorado, with her mother and aunt.
As money became available we took family trips to New Orleans, Panama City, Washington D.C., New York City and Palm Beach to see the Breakers Hotel and where they had lived during the war.
When my father retired my mother had accumulated enough leave from her job at the local Post Office for them to take several long road trips. I was lucky to accompany them at least part of the way on one trip out west. We visited Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons. She had me take her picture at the top of Yellowstone Falls to prove she was brave enough to go out there. She had a fear of heights but she wouldn’t let it stop her from going to the edge of the falls or from a bubble-top helicopter ride over the Bad Lands of South Dakota. I had to fly home but they went on to visit my aunt in Oregon, up to Vancouver and then back down the California Coast to San Francisco. Then they came home through Salt Lake City and Denver. On another trip they drove through the northeast all the way to Nova Scotia, across Canada to Montreal and back home. And another year went across Texas and the southwest to the Grand Canyon and then dipped down into Mexico. How I would love to duplicate any one of those trips.
My mother didn’t learn to drive until the late 1950’s. After my father underwent major surgery she decided she could no longer depend on others to drive her around. She was never the best driver but that didn’t keep her home. While we were in high school, she would drive us to Nashville at least twice a year to shop for clothes. She could make her way downtown to Cain Sloan’s parking garage and after a long day of shopping we’d exit the garage, turn right on Broadway and head out of town on Highway 70. I don’t think she ever learned to drive anywhere else in Nashville except to the hospitals.
Elnora loved her grandchildren, her flowers in her beautiful yard and reading a good book or watching an old movie on TV. She used to say she watched all the old black & white movies because when she was growing up she didn’t get to see any of them. They didn’t have the money for movies.
Later in life she bought her own car and drove it where she wanted to go. This might have been taking her grandson to Walmart in nearby Dickson or driving to Dover to the UDC meetings. When my sister moved to Mobile, Alabama, and I moved to Florida she made her final road trip. Since my father’s health was poor, she drove by herself. This adventure took her to Chattanooga to my brother’s house, down through Georgia to our home in Florida for a short visit, and then across the panhandle of Florida to Mobile to stay with my sister. She was seventy-two years old when she made that trip. I always thought she was so brave for making that long drive alone.
Only a few years later, Alzheimer’s had taken its toll. She came to Florida to stay near me. Her strong constitution and vibrant spirit remained almost to the end — just a month short of her eighty-fifth birthday. This post is dedicated to her loving memory.
In honor of Memorial Day I decided to write about my cousin who was killed in action during the Second World War. So many Americans died in that war, over 400,000 gave their lives. Another 670,000 were wounded. The war touched nearly every family in the country. My family was no different.
Pfc. Herman E. Connell Jr. was my father’s first cousin, his mother’s sister’s boy. Herman Jr. was born March 2, 1926. He turned eighteen in March 1944. Only four days after his nineteenth birthday, on March 6, 1945, Herman E. Connell, Jr., died – killed fighting the Germans.
According to Ancestry.com, he enlisted in the Army on June 6, 1944. Did he know about the Normandy invasion that took place the same day? It was front page news and broadcast on radio across the country. Perhaps that spurred him to join the Army. Or maybe he knew he would be drafted and decided to go ahead and enlist. We will never know. What I do know is that Herman Jr. enlisted and reported to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana for training.
Herman Jr. was the only son of Herman E. and Hattie L. (Roby) Connell. His only sister, Elizabeth, was four years his senior. Although the 1940 Census shows their residence as Paris, Henry County, Tennessee, Herman Jr.’s enlistment record states that his place of residence in 1944 was Warren County, Kentucky. The county seat is Bowling Green. At that time Bowling Green was just a train ride up the L&N Railroad toward the northeast from Paris, Tennessee. Since his father, Herman Sr. worked as a brakeman on the railroad, it makes sense to me that Herman Jr. would have traveled to Bowling Green to find work.
I have fond memories of visiting Aunt Hat and Uncle Herman in Paris, along with Elizabeth, her husband Milton, and their two sons Randy and Donnie. I vaguely remember a photo of a soldier and being told he had been killed in the war. Years later I found myself wondering what happened to him.
Unfortunately many of the service records for World War II veterans were lost in a fire. I found his name listed on the U.S. Roster of War Dead. The only information given there is his name, rank and serial number. Thanks to someone who photographed Herman Jr.’s grave marker and uploaded it to Findagrave.com, we know that when he died he was with Company L, 310th Infantry, 78th Division. I don’t know where he received his training after Fort Benjamin Harrison. I don’t know when he shipped out to Europe or when he was assigned to the 78th Division. After the war my father made some inquiries about Herman Jr. for his parents. I remember my father saying that Herman Jr. was in a group of replacements needed because so many men were being killed and wounded.
At the beginning of March, 1945, the 78th Infantry Division, as part of First Army, had reached the Roer River and was poised for the attack east toward the Rhine. On March 2, the 310th crossed the Roer River in support of the 9th Armored Division. The 3rd Battalion, which included Company L, was attached to CCA (Combat Command A) with Wollersheim their first objective. The men had not rested for 40 hours by the time they cleared the Wollersheim woods. The next day the 3rd Battalion captured three towns with Company L taking Merzenich while Company K took Sizenich and Company I captured Florin. Then on March 4, they attacked the important road, rail and communications center of Euskirchen, the largest city encountered by the 78th Division to that date. Thick mud in the recently plowed fields and steady rain made the five miles to the objective difficult and exhausting. During the advance they were subjected to artillery fire, mortars, machine guns, small arms fire and snipers.
“Even when the enemy fire was heaviest and casualties highest, the men kept moving toward their objective, seldom hitting the ground and urging one another on with shouts and jests. Not one squad scattered, and not a man dropped out, unless severely wounded. Most of the weapons became clogged with mud. There was neither time nor place to stop. The men attempted to clean them while marching.”
Company L’s casualties were extremely heavy. (Herman Jr. could have been mortally wounded during this advance on March 4th.) With friendly artillery out of range, 3rd Battalion continued with some tank support. They reached the city by dark and then fought their way through the night. By eleven Company I had reached the southwest edge of town. On the morning of March 5 the 3rd Battalion continued to mop up Euskirchen.
Still with no rest, elements of the 3rd Battalion moved on to the Erft Canal and Roitzheim, taking the vital crossing point on the canal. Other elements remained in Euskirchen to search every room in every building. Due to an expected counter-attack during the night of March 5 no one slept, instead they manned defensive positions throughout the night. On March 6, with Euskirchen and Roitzheim secure, the 3rd Battalion finally got their much deserved rest, their first since the beginning of their attack on March 2nd.
Although Herman Jr. died on March 6th, it is important to know what his unit accomplished in the days following his death. The 1st Battalion of the 310th Regiment was attached to CCB while the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were part of CCA. On March 7th CCB captured the intact Ludendorff bridge at Remagen. With that fortuitous event all plans changed with the Americans focusing on getting troops across the bridge and into the heart of Germany. The 1st Battalion of the 310th was the first infantry battalion across the bridge. The 3rd Battalion followed a few days later on March 10th. The 310th helped establish and hold the vital bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Rhine.
For their action against the enemy from the Roer River to the Rhine during the period from March 1, 1945, to March 15, 1945, the Third Battalion of the 78th Division received a Presidential Unit Citation. Reading this high military award gave me goose bumps knowing that my cousin gave his life in this action. A young, nineteen-year-old with his whole life ahead of him sacrificed that future for his country and for the world. I am sure that the Presidential Unit Citation did little to comfort his mother’s grief or to make his family’s life without him any easier. But it made me very proud, of Herman Jr., of my father and my father-in-law, and of all my uncles and cousins who served in the military during that terrible and truly world-wide war.
My husband and I recently traveled to Tennessee for a sad event – a family funeral. While driving through Tullahoma, we passed the Tullahoma Army National Guard Armory and out front sat an M-7 track-mounted 105 mm artillery piece like my father-in-law’s gun from WWII. Of course, we stopped and looked it over and took pictures.
This was only the second time we have seen an M-7, also called the “Priest,” in person and needless-to-say we were excited. We never imagined seeing my father-in-law’s gun so close to home. We quickly spread the word among the family members so that they too could share the experience. My father-in-law, Paul Whitaker, trained on the M-7 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then shipped out to Europe where he was in combat from July 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
Finding the gun in Tullahoma was ironic because in early 1944 my father-in-law’s outfit was taking part in the “Tennessee Maneuvers” in the Tullahoma/Coffee County area near Camp Forrest, Tennessee. They were pulled out of the maneuvers and sent to Fort Campbell where they were converted from a standard field artillery battalion to a mobile field artillery battalion. As part of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion my father-in-law fought his way across Europe for the most part under the command of Patton’s Third Army.
The M-7 is in front of the “old” Army National Guard Armory in Tullahoma. This facility is utilized by the 1176th Transportation Company of the Tennessee National Guard. Nearby stands the brand-new Tullahoma Readiness Center dedicated in August 2012. This new facility houses the 30th Troop Command of the Tennessee Army National Guard, the latest generation of the “Old Hickory” legacy, descendants of the WWII era 30th Infantry Division.
The plaque in front of the M-7 in Tullahoma describes the gun pretty well. It states – “The M7 “Priest” 105mm howitzer had a 7 man crew that fired artillery rounds to a range of 11,500 meters during WWII and the Korean War. It was powered by a 9 cylinder Continental engine and had a range of 200 miles. A total of 3,490 M7’s were built from 1942 to 1945.”
Several years ago we saw an M-7 at a VFW near Flint, Michigan. We were visiting my sister and brother-in-law when he told us about seeing the gun at the VFW. He wasn’t sure if the gun was the same as my father-in-law’s gun so he took us out to see it. That time my husband climbed up on top just to get a feel for what it was like up there. He didn’t attempt to climb aboard the one in Tullahoma. I’m afraid we’ve gotten too old for such adventures. Never-the-less we were both thrilled to see the gun.
I have written about this gun and the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion several times before. If you are interested, check out my posts in the Category “276th AFA.”
The coming of fall has me thinking about this little one-room school-house that represents an almost century-old connection between my mother’s family and my mother-in-law’s family. Back then the one-room school-house provided the only opportunity for education in rural America. Limited transportation meant the schools had to be close to where the children lived so they could walk or ride a mule or be driven in a wagon. The lone teacher taught students from first grade up to eighth, if they stayed in school that long.
The remains of Spring Valley School is in this picture. It’s located on Salmon Branch (road and creek) in Houston County, Tennessee, not too far from the Humphreys County line. What was once the Spring Valley Church stands in a similar dilapidated state across the road from the school. Then, as now, the gravel road winds its way up the valley alongside Salmon Branch. A ways beyond the school it climbs a dry ridge and then drops down into the upper White Oak Creek valley where it joins the road from Erin to McEwen.
Spring Valley School is about twelve miles from the county seat of Erin. From the late 1890’s to the early 1900’s my grandfather, W. R. Boone, was superintendent of schools in the county. He presided over a school system with from 2,200 to 2,600 students scattered over the small rural county. He also taught school part of that time, as did his sister, Lura. After his marriage in 1900 he and his first wife, Lois, had seven children. Lois died in 1911 soon after their last child, also named Lois, was born. Aunt Wildred was almost three years old when her mother died. My grandfather then married my grandmother, Elvira, who was Lois’ younger sister. By the time W. R. died in 1921 he and Elvira had four children. At the time of his death his oldest child was twenty-one, Wildred was thirteen and my mother, Elnora, was four.
W. R. Boone believed in education, as did his widow. Their children all graduated from high school and some went on to take business and secretarial courses, which was a financial strain after their father’s death. Since at that time a teacher did not have to have a college degree, the older girls took the teacher’s exam and taught school for a time. The school board appointed Wildred Boone as teacher of Spring Valley School on June 27, 1927. (Her name is mis-spelled as Mildred in the historical record.) With the school so far from town, Wildred boarded with a family who lived nearby — the Tates.
My cousin, Dawn, wrote a wonderful story on Ancestry.com about her grandmother, Wildred. I’ll share some of that story here. While staying with the Tates and teaching school, Wildred fell in love with one of their sons, Hershel Tate. On December 17, 1927, the couple eloped. They traveled to Humphreys County and married. The nearest town in Humphreys County is McEwen, but they may have traveled further on to Waverly, the county seat.
In the late 1970’s Aunt Wildred visited the home we built on a hill overlooking Jones Hollow. On the opposite side of that hill along Salmon Branch was the Tate place. Aunt Wildred told me of hiking over the hill from the Tate’s to Jones Hollow to visit George and Hattie Jones. She said she loved visiting the Jones place.
In 1927 George and Hattie’s son Samuel Paul Jones and his wife Louise lived in a little house in Jones Hollow along with their one-year-old daughter, Dorothy Earlene, my mother-in-law. George and Hattie doted on Earlene, keeping her with them as much as they could. So Wildred would certainly have met the baby girl during her tenure at Spring Valley School.
A few years later Dorothy Earlene Jones started school at Spring Valley School where she would finish the eighth grade. She then went on to attend Yellow Creek High School.
After their marriage, Hershel and Wildred moved to Akron, Ohio, and Hershel went to work in one of the rubber plants there. Samuel Paul Jones’ brother, Robert, also went to Akron to work. Hershel Tate and Robert Jones had grown up less than a mile apart. Both went to Akron and worked in rubber plants until they retired.
When we were in Tennessee last fall we drove around some of the old roads near Jones Hollow. We passed the remains of Spring Valley School and stopped so I could snap a picture and capture the place where so many memories were made. Places like this remind me of how small the world is and how our lives are intertwined. Although our families have scattered across the country places like this still tie us together. All of those mentioned from former generations are gone, except for Earlene. And her memories have faded. I hope that stories like this will keep the memories alive for our children and grandchildren.
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.
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” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Along the tour we stopped at several points of interest. Some simply gave a view of the mountains.
Some let us experience the forest, the ancient stones and the tumbling waters.
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.
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.
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.