They Called It the War Effort
Oral Histories from World War II Orange, Texas
Publication Year: 2012
Over the course of World War II, Orange, Texas’s easternmost city, went from a sleepy southern town of 7,500 inhabitants to a bustling industrial city of 60,000. The bayou community on the Sabine became one of the nation’s preeminent shipbuilding centers. In They Called It the War Effort, Louis Fairchild details the explosive transformation of his native city in the words of the people who lived through it. Some residents who lived in the town before the war speak of nostalgia for the time when Orange was a small, close-knit community and regret for the loss of social cohesiveness of former days, while others speak of the exciting new opportunities and interesting new people that came. Interviewees tell how newcomers from rural areas in Louisiana and East Texas tried to adjust to a new life in close living quarters and to new amenities–like indoor toilets. People from all walks of life talk of the economic shift from the cash and job shortages of Depression era to a war era when these things were in abundance, but they also tell of how wartime rationing made items like Coca-Cola treasured luxuries. Fairchild deftly draws on a wide array of secondary sources in psychology and history to tie together and broaden the perspectives offered by World War II Orangeites. The second edition of this justly praised book features more interviews with non-white residents of Orange, as Japanese Americans and especially African Americans speak not only of the challenges of wartime economic dislocations, but also of living in a southern town where Jim Crow still reigned.
Published by: Texas State Historical Association
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Title Page, Copyright
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Foreword to the First Edition
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World War II is vivid in my memory, particularly scenes of the home front in southeastern Texas. As an elementary-school student whose parents demonstrated much interest in the progress of the United States during World War II, I remember well our lives during the four agonizing years the nation was at war. My hometown of Beaumont, Texas, ranked high as a possible target for any enemy attack by air, and I soon came to understand how critical to the Allied effort our community’s refineries, shipbuilding facilities,...
Preface to the Second Edition- Let’s Have Some News of Orange
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Stationed with the 17th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Philippines, Lieutenant Grant Manley of Orange, Texas, wrote a number of letters to his family between September 2 and November 11, 1941. The letters speak to a youthful confidence and maturity. In addition to references to family and friends, investments and money matters are mentioned. They will be reassured to know that the happy-go-lucky bunch of guys with whom he serves is as fine a lot as can be found anywhere. ...
Preface to the First Edition - Like a Montage
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On answering the phone she said, “Speak slow and loud. I am hard of hearing.” I explained the purpose of the interview, and she responded, “Nothing makes an old woman happier than to talk about the past.” A time to meet was arranged. The white frame house, set close to the street, was modest and traditional with a full, screened-in porch. She came to the door and her face was flushed. It was apparent she had been out in the pressing heat and humidity of the early summer morning. A ball belonging to children across the...
Acknowledgments to the Second Edition
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The passage of nearly twenty-four years has not dimmed my gratitude to West Texas A&M University for the support I received in researching and publishing the first edition of this book. The backing was both fiscal and collegial. The interest and encouragement have not gone forgotten. WTAMU—students, faculty, staff, and campus—remains a special chapter in my life and career. I wear no brands more proudly than...
Acknowledgments to the First Edition
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I am grateful to West Texas State University* for the opportunity to pursue this project. The people, environment, and facilities of the university helped make it possible. The Killgore Research Center on campus was a source of several research grants that supported important phases of the study. From the beginning, the Orange County Historical Society has been an enthusiastic ally. Dr. Joe Ben Welch and Lamar University–Orange provided...
Introduction - Just the Way It Was [Images Included]
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“Once you’ve been through a war, everything else is second best as far as excitement is concerned.”1 A native of Orange and a veteran who saw action at Normandy, his comment came toward the end of the interview, interjected almost as an afterthought. Beyond this level of personal experience, however, is the broader social impact of war. “Total war,” Francis Merrill concluded, “is the most catastrophic instigator of social change the world has ever seen, with the possible exception of...
1. This Is My Town
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When Orangeite Henry Stanfield’s travels took him around the state, he enjoyed telling people he was from “Lapland . . . Orange, Texas, where it laps into Louisiana.” Not much to distinguish a community. At best, Orange was an obscure little place that had to be searched for on the map. Once located, some reacted, “Siberia!” 2 One arriving navy seaman thought Orange was heaven compared to Norfolk, Virginia, but a shipmate was “unpleasantly shocked at the drab, dusty ‘Wild West’ appearance of Orange, and...
2. Coming to Orange
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They were everywhere, these newcomers: in the schools, out in the yards, among the blacks, downtown. They were even slipping into the churches. And although naval officers and the managerial, supervisory types seem to have been welcomed, at least initially, without serious reservation, some of the working class encountered rather harsh receptions. “Orange was a little bit different than any other town I’d been in in East Texas,” Copeland Ward concluded,...
3. Children at a Unique Time
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“Old man Lonigan, his feet planted on the back porch railing, sat tilted back in his chair enjoying his stogy. . . . He gazed, with reverie-lost eyes, over the gravel spread of Carter Playground, which was a few doors south of his own building. . . . His attention wandered to a boy . . . who, with the intent and dreamy seriousness of childhood, played on the ladders and slides which paralleled his own back fence. He watched the youngster scramble up, slide down, scramble up, slide down. It stirred in him a vague series...
4. Teenagers Live Forever
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The high school scene included “football games, band, [and] Bengal Guards.” 1 The Guard, a 144-member girls’ drum and bugle corps, was the town’s pride and joy: “We were the thing of Orange—and all the nation as far as that [goes],” Iris Bowler recalled proudly, and her pride was not without justification.2 A 1940 Life magazine article concluded there was no band “more wonderful than the one in Orange, Texas.” 3 Making their debut in the depressed mid-1930s, they were the Cinderella girls.4 Organized and funded by...
5. The Women: Very Good, Very Strong
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American women were no strangers to paid employment, according to historian D’Ann Campbell, and this included the Depression years.1 Out of school, they generally wanted work, and they eventually landed a job. But to hear Albert Adams, “Orange had just about took the sign down around here. It wasn’t hardly anything going on.” A poor-people town, unemployment was very high. What few jobs were available mostly went to men, the traditional breadwinners...
6. Being Black in Orange
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“If we’ve got anything in the house to eat you can eat out of the same skillet.”1 Such was the relationship that existed between some blacks and whites in Orange. Black domestics might nurture several generations in a white family and be treated with the same love and affection as the most cherished family member. Peggy Garrett spoke of the intimacy in her own family: “We had the same black lady that worked for us for fifty-two years, and we were...
7. Top People in Shipyard Management
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Workers arrived in Orange not only from different locations around the country but with different ability levels. Many had no formal education, while others had only a little. There were even those in supervisory positions who could neither read nor write, and it was not unusual for Cajuns to speak only the regional French of the southern Louisiana parishes. Because some did not know how to take measurements with a ruler, technical skills like reading a blueprint were sure to be foreign. Almost no one had experience...
8. They Got the Job Done: Out in the Yards [Images Included]
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It was a large, swallow-tailed pennant bordered in white. In the center was a white letter “E” set within a yellow wreath of oak and laurel leaves on a vertically divided background of red and blue. “ARMY” was on the red portion and “NAVY” on the blue, both in white letters. To see the American flag flying over war-production factories and plants was not unusual. Patriotism was at its peak and the colors were proudly shown. Not all plants, though, were privileged to fly the Army-Navy E, a flag presented to those select industries that excelled in the production of equipment and materiel...
9. Buy Anything, Sell Anything: Doing Business
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On another wall the promotional on a dusty, antique clock reminded: “Time to buy Calumet Baking Powder, ‘Best by Test.’” Nearby were equally ancient-looking promotionals, discolored by time: “‘Snap Back’ with Standback.” “Dr. LeGear’s Veterinary Prescriptions . . . One for Every Need.” Farmers’ Mercantile in Orange is described on a postcard as a “turn-of-the-century general merchandise store.” Established in 1928, it is a community...
10. Health, Education, and Welfare [Images Included]
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A favored term in talking about wartime Orange was “influx,” literally “a flowing in.” Those who were in Orange during the First World War could clearly recall the human flood of those years and the neighborhoods of small “toy town” cottages erected to house the rush of shipbuilders. Some of these old-timers knew that if another war ever occurred there would be a similar population surge, but few could visualize the magnitude, the mass of humanity...
Conclusion: Like a Hybrid
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To recount one’s life and times is to reach for right words. There is a surplus of relevant images and expressions from which to draw, and although individuals from the same place and time will share many of these in describing common experiences, there will also be differences. Wartime Orange, Texas, was a new experience for everyone, hometowners and newcomers alike. Thousands of people “from a jillion different...
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Written with pen and ink in a legible, open style, it is a five-page document—his Last Will and Testament. Wishes are stated in proper legal language, while feelings for family and loved ones are expressed briefly in simple, personal terms. The affection is implicit, elaboration unnecessary. His estate he willed to his mother and father, and then he wrote the following...
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In my view, we have long needed a richer account of the lives of the people of Southeast Texas as provided here through the skilled, interdisciplinary research and thoughtful interpretation of psychologist-turned-historian Louis Fairchild. To Louis, my college classmate, perceptive Southeast Texan, and longtime friend, we owe a profound debt of gratitude for this historical work...
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Page Count: 500
Illustrations: 36 black-and-white photos
Publication Year: 2012