When Dayton Went to War: Memories of the Homefront

When Dayton Went to War: Memories of the Homefront

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On December 7, 1941, life in Dayton—and around the world—changed forever. With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dayton prepared for war.

“When Dayton Went to War: Memories of the Homefront,” produced by ThinkTV in cooperation with the Montgomery County Historical Society, tells the story of life in the greater Dayton area during the war years, 1941-1945. This special presentation features interviews with Miami Valley residents, archival film footage and memorabilia from the era. Author Curt Dalton’s book, Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II, served as a primary resource for the documentary.

As the U.S. entered the war, military bases in the Miami Valley implemented measures to heighten security and planes were placed on stand-by at Wright and Patterson Fields, ready to respond to an attack. Factories stopped manufacturing peacetime products and retooled to begin production of war material.

Fear of a war fought on U.S. soil brought enormous change to the Miami Valley. Civil defense policies were put in place. No one had imagined a time when black outs, food shortages, air raid preparation and the search for subversive activity would become commonplace.

Soon, “alien enemy” registrations began. Japanese, German and Italian citizens residing in the Dayton area were forced to “register” with the Dayton Defense Department and relinquish belongings that could be used as weapons—guns, short wave radios and radio transmitters.

As many of Dayton’s young men headed to local induction centers, women too joined the war effort as WACS (Women’s Army Corps) or WAVES (Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the U.S. Navy.

With 61 plants producing war products and three strategic military bases in Dayton, war workers were in short supply. Corporate and civic leaders met to devise strategies to boost the workforce. Day nurseries opened to free women for work. Many retirees returned to work and people with disabilities, previously considered unemployable, were hired in factories. Recruitment efforts attracted workers from outside the Dayton area. The influx of new workers created a housing shortage forcing the construction of new homes. Eventually 2,500 new housing units were built in Dayton.

One of the most notable victories of the war occurred in Dayton. The bombe, a machine used to break the German “Enigma Code” (code sent and received by German U-boats) was perfected at NCR. The bombe has been credited with saving thousands of British and American lives and hastening the end of the war.

Life in Dayton during the war years was anything but routine. With 115,000 of Dayton’s residents working around the clock, local retailers began to extend their operating hours. Rationing restrictions on everything from meat, sugar and coffee to rubber, hosiery, cigarettes, produce and liquor added another hardship. Daytonians now had to stand in line to obtain ration books and coupons. Victory Gardens sprang up all over Montgomery County to offset the shortage of fresh produce. The scarcity of metal for war material promoted frequent citywide scrap drives, old tires were routinely collected and some people even volunteered to enlist their dogs for overseas sentry duty.

For Dayton’s African-American community, the war years provided little relief from the segregation typical of the era. They stood in separate lines for ration coupon books and were only able to obtain jobs classified for “coloreds.”

In May 1945, news of an allied victory in Europe raised hopes that the Japanese would surrender. Finally in August, it was over. In Dayton and throughout the country simultaneous celebrations broke out—strangers hugged and kissed one another and there was dancing in the streets. The enemy had been vanquished and our boys would soon be coming home.