Arizona's War Town: Flagstaff, Navajo Ordnance Depot, and World War II (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Arizona’s War Town: Flagstaff, Navajo Ordnance Depot, and World War II. By John S. Westerlund. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8165-2262-6. Maps. Illustrations. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 304. $39.95.

The Second World War was a turning point in the history of many western states. The rapid construction of numerous military installations brought an influx of government funding, military personnel, and civilian workers that transformed the social and economic structure of communities and laid the foundations for much of the growth and industrialization that characterizes the west today. In Arizona's War Town, retired army officer and historian John Westerlund explores these themes by examining the war's impact on the northern Arizona town of Flagstaff and the surrounding Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations.

In January of 1942, the Army selected the nearby railroad stop of Bellemont as the site for one of sixteen major ordnance depots that would serve as centralized storage and staging areas for weapons, equipment, and munitions. The construction of over 800 storage bunkers and support buildings eventually brought in over forty-two million dollars in federal funding and a [End Page 996] wave of civilian workers that more than doubled the town's prewar population of five thousand. The resulting economic boom jolted the town out of the Depression, but introduced other challenges.

Westerlund describes how patriotism, sacrifice, and hard work were mixed with profiteering, prostitution, racism, and labor troubles that the base commanders and the town's chamber of commerce often struggled to contain. When union leaders attempted to organize the bustling restaurants and bars in May 1942, the town's merchants "went on strike" (p. 209) and took the unusual step of briefly closing the entire town in protest. For many, the war also offered new opportunities for income and advancement. Women provided nearly half of the ordnance depot work force and quickly expanded into a variety of nontraditional roles, including forklift operators, truck drivers, mechanics, and munitions inspectors.

A unique aspect of the depot's history is the central role played by Native Americans, and especially Navajos, whose contribution gave the installation its name. At times, nearly half of the over two thousand base employees were Indians, making it the war effort's "largest single concentration of Native Americans at one location" (p. 224). Language and cultural barriers produced many conflicts between the workers and their military and civilian supervisors until overcome by creative solutions. The author describes how the army built an entire village of Navajo cabins, or "hogons," and even established a traditional trading post on base. The Navajo and Hopi workers themselves developed new processes, reporting structures, and nightly meetings; an experience that later helped many depot employees to achieve leadership roles on the postwar reservation.

Although most of the book revolves around the impact of the ordnance depot, Westerlund also includes chapters on a local war hero, Colonel Arman Peterson, and on the naval cadets who trained at the Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University) as part of the V-12 program. The author does a good job of balancing an academic analysis of the facts with personal descriptions of individual experiences and events, making the entire work both informative and readable. Although less dramatic than the violent events of the battlefield, Westerlund demonstrates that the often overlooked struggles of the home front were often no less important in both their contribution to the war effort and their lasting impact on our society.

Erik Berg
Phoenix, Arizona
...


pdf