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Wartime America

“December 7th, 1941 … a date which will live in infamy.”



President Roosevelt immortalized those words the day after Japanese torpedo planes attacked Pearl Harbor, and so began America’s long involvement in World War II, from 1941 to 1945. The surprise attack on America’s deep-water naval base in Hawaii, by the Empire of Japan, killed or wounded more than 3,500 men and women. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war and received it in less than one hour.



The war mobilized over nine million men and women, as throngs flocked to sign-up at their local recruiting stations. This would include men and women of a different race and color, such as African-American, Native-American, and Japanese-American. Whatever their reasons for answering the call to duty, they were discriminated against in the military as they were in civilian life. These Americans felt the desire to serve their country, despite the mistreatment they received from most other Americans. They sought the opportunity to achieve recognition for their abilities besides the financial security that a steady income would offer. Regardless, most thought of themselves as Americans, independent of race, and felt proud to fight for their country.




Many factory workers went off to fight as did professionals, so much that a large drain on the workforce was left. This was soon to be filled by others. Women sprung into action, and the War Department began “militarizing” them, recognizing their great potential. New branches were formed, both in the civilian sector and in the military, and women received these roles as never before. One branch modeled themselves after Britain’s “ATA Girls,” the Air Transport Auxiliary, and called themselves WASPs or Women’s Air Service Pilots.




Everyday life was changed as rationing of gas, meat, clothing, paper, took over people’s lives. Families were given ration books, so as not to hoard items, and “victory gardens” sprung up as Americans began to grow their own vegetables and fruit. The government still had to contend with the long-term effects of the Great Depression, and in 1940, over eight million workers were still unemployed. As a result, Roosevelt demanded that factories operated at peak capacity and persuaded them to hire women, waiting to fill the roles vacated by men who had gone off to fight. A mythical steelworker, who came to represent the millions of American women who entered jobs in factories all across America, became a cultural icon. Posters of “Rosie the Riveter” popped up all over America.




To ensure that America’s military might would reach its full potential, Roosevelt established the War Production Board. The WPB regulated all industrial production and selectively allocated material and fuel to the war effort. Thousands of military vehicles were built, ending civilian automotive production. No cars, commercial trucks, or auto parts were made from February 1942 to October 1945. Roosevelt demanded the rationing of vital materials, such as rubber, metals, and oil.




As America worked tirelessly, listening to radio broadcasts by Roosevelt and reading the many articles from newspapers. The men and women fighting overseas harkened to listen to journalists like Ernie Pyle. The country’s somber days were made brighter, and America pulled together in what Tom Brokaw coined as “The Greatest Generation.”









The National World War II Museum

Women’s Air Service Pilots

The Ernie Pyle World War II Museum

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum


Photos courtesy of the National World War II Museum, The WASP WW II Museum, History Channel, National Public Radio, The National Archives, and the Ernie Pyle Museum