Originally created 05/30/99

A look at the 20th Century: 1941



It was a year of war and rumors of war.

Under the Neutrality Act, the United States in 1941 technically remained on the periphery of World War II in Europe and the growing Japanese threat in Asia.

Still, the country truly was beginning to become the Arsenal of Democracy as President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to aid Britons in their desperate fight against Adolf Hitler's marauding German war machine.

Just a year earlier, Great Britain had endured Hitler's attempt to bomb Englanders into submission while France and the Low Countries were overrun by invading Germans. By mid-1941, Hitler's army marched into Russia and Japan and continued to threaten China and Indochina. Before the year was out, the United States would be at war on two fronts against the German, Italian and Japanese Axis.

On Jan. 7, Roosevelt called for wartime production and warned Congress against appeasement. He asked a sometimes recalcitrant Congress to raise taxes to pay for the lend-lease program to send armaments and other supplies to America's war-torn allies.

That same day, 22 draftees were given a luncheon and a rousing send-off at the American Legion hut in North Augusta by Mayor R.B. Mealing and taken to Fort Jackson near Columbia, for a year of military training. The next month, 28 white draftees from Augusta were sent to Fort McPherson, Ga., to begin training; their black counterparts were sent to Fort Benning, Ga.

Mrs. St. Julien Cullum held a benefit March 4 in her home for British War Relief. The event included an exhibition of her personal doll collection.

By March, more than a million men were in the U.S. Army, the highest number since 3.6 million American servicemen were demobilized after World War I.

Though it seemed the whole nation was preparing for war or at least determined to assist the British in their struggle with Germany, not all Americans supported America's war effort.

Republicans in Congress tried and failed Feb. 4 to circumvent Roosevelt's strategy by seeking to place aid to England on a money-loan basis rather than on lend-lease, as favored by the majority Democrats. The GOP had help from an American hero, Charles Lindbergh. The famed flier went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to urge that lend-lease be rejected altogether. He argued that it was "encouraging and prolonging the war and increasing the bloodshed," predicting that lend-lease would not affect the war's outcome.

Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, agreed, telling senators that Nazi Germany was no threat to U.S. security.

Fighting worsened in March in Yugoslavia, where British, Greek and Yugoslav troops tried to halt the German march. By April, it was all over for the Allies in the Balkans. Along the Mediterranean Sea, Athens, Greece, fell to the German onslaught, and by May, Britain's Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe were fighting in the skies over oil-rich Iraq. In London, the Germans blitzed the House of Commons, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.

On the home front, 1st Lt. Mabel A. Watkins, the first female Army officer stationed in Augusta, arrived May 20 to become chief nurse at Augusta Air Base at Daniel Field. In June, work began on what would become Camp Hancock -- later Fort Gordon -- on the western end of Tobacco Road. On the eastern end, another major construction project began at Georgia Aero-Tech, where 400 cadets soon would start training on 100 planes based at the air field known today as Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.

By September 1941, the first of 35,000 soldiers arrived at Camp Hancock. On Oct. 10, 1,000 men of the 47th Bombardment Group were at Daniel Field. Augusta conducted its first air-raid drill Oct. 24.

The nation clearly was preparing for war. And it came soon.

On Dec. 3, the United States asked Japan to explain its concentration of troops in Indochina, a request Washington considered an attempt to test the extent of Japan's good faith. When the Japanese returned what The Associated Press called a soft answer Dec. 5, it was widely assumed that they were opening the way for further negotiations.

But in three days -- Monday morning, Dec. 8 -- the main headline in The Augusta Chronicle declared "U.S., JAPAN AT WAR."

The "date which will live in infamy," Dec. 7, 1941, had come like a thief in the night while the nation was enjoying the last peaceful Sunday it would know for four years.

Still, war was not all there was in 1941. Things were looking up after a long bout with the Great Depression.

On April 13, The Chronicle's Easter Sunday edition reported a 14 percent gain in the economy over the previous 12 months. Much of the increased economic activity was attributed to the burgeoning war effort. Mills in Horse Creek Valley were going full blast after years of labor unrest, but owners said the increased production had nothing to do with war preparations.

Also in April, automaker Henry Ford agreed to negotiate for the first time with the United Auto Workers union. The resulting contract covered all Ford Motor Co. workers throughout the nation, and it was a milestone for the UAW and labor unions in general.

1941 brought change to the automotive world. The luxurious Packard came equipped with air conditioning for the first time, and Willys delivered the first Jeep to the U.S. Army. The American Bantam ceased auto production after the beginning of the model year to design the prototype of the Jeep, which it continued to manufacture during the war.

Hupmobile discontinued production and concentrated on defense contracts -- never to return to automobile manufacturing. Also it was the end of the line for the LaSalle when General Motors decided there was no longer a gap between Buick and Cadillac that needed to be filled.

It was a good year for comedian Jack Benny. On March 11, he signed a new radio contract with NBC that paid him $17,500 a year.

Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, played by Harold Peary, spun off from the radio comedy Fibber McGee and Molly. The Great Gildersleeve, premiering Aug. 31, was probably the first true situational comedy and the first show to focus on a single guardian or parent.

Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for best actor for Sergeant York, a patriotic film set during World War I, and Joan Fontaine took the Oscar for Suspicion, beating out her sister Olivia de Haviland in Hold Back the Dawn and Bette Davis in The Little Foxes. How Green Was My Valley took the golden statuette for best film.

The most talked-about film for Augustans was Tobacco Road, and they hated it for depicting their city as a hick town. But the town regained some self-respect by producing its own documentary with a more positive look at the Garden City.

1941 was a banner year for America's pastime. Joltin' Joe Dimaggio of the New York Yankees achieved the defining moment of his professional baseball career in 1941 when he got at least one base hit in 56 consecutive games, a streak unmatched before or since. Another slugger, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, hit .406, the last major league player to do so.

And on April 7 in Augusta, golfer Craig Wood -- the "Big Blond Belter" from New York -- won the Masters Tournament, taking the top prize of $1,500.

Time line

Jan. 6:

The Soviet Union recalls its diplomats from the Balkans; the German army consolidates its positions along the Russian frontier and moves toward Yugoslavia.

Jan. 7:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt warns Congress against appeasement of dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini; North Augusta sends its second quota of 22 draftees to Fort Jackson, S.C., to begin a year of military training.

Jan. 22:

State Rep. Roy Harris of Augusta accuses Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge of seeking dictatorial power and opposes a bill giving the governor control of all state revenue.

Feb. 27:

Work gets under way on the U.S. Army Air Corps base at Daniel Field airport in Augusta.

March 4:

Robert B. Mealing is elected to his eighth two-year term as North Augusta mayor, overcoming opponents C.E. Petty and George C. Briggs.

March 17:

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull strolls the grounds of Augusta's Forest Hills Hotel and tries his hand on the putting green during a brief vacation in the Garden City.

May 14:

Aiken's winter season was pronounced a success with hundreds of visitors between October 1940 and Easter 1941.

May 20:

William S. Morris, publisher of The Augusta Chronicle, is elected president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.

June 10:

Work begins on a huge Army camp -- originally called Camp Hancock and later Fort Gordon -- to be located on Tobacco Road; construction steps up on an air base at Daniel Field, and a $2 million building program goes into full swing at Augusta Arsenal.

Sept. 18:

Soldiers arrive in Augusta; registration and licensing of prostitutes begins in the city.

Sept. 23:

Augusta's new U.S. Army base is named Camp Gordon and is the designated home of the "Rolling" 4th Division.

Dec. 3:

The United States asks Japan to explain the concentration of its troops in Indochina in a move Washington considers an attempt to find the extent of Japan's good faith.

Dec. 5:

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools drops Georgia's university system from accreditation because of Gov. Eugene Talmadge's political interference.

Dec. 7:

Japan bombs Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack, bringing the United States into World War II. President Roosevelt later declares the day of the attack as the Day of Infamy.

Pat Willis can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.