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Living in Tullahoma during WWII
By Jim Bridges
Smoke Signals Feature Writer
James Bridges jantan@frontiernet.net


 

Pearl Harbor
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” This historic excerpt comes from the address President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered to a joint session of congress on December 8, 1941. On the day it was delivered I was nine years old. We were living in Tullahoma, Tennessee where I was born and where my father worked. With the exception of a year when we lived in Manchester, 11 miles away, we spent the war years in Tullahoma.

There are books, movies and TV documentaries that chronicle experiences of the men and women who fought and died for our country in WWII. The same can be said for those who served behind the lines, the thousands who worked for companies producing war-related products and those who kept the home fires burning. But how about the children who grew up during that time? What did they do? How were their lives affected?

 

My first recollection of WWII goes back before the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the day my father drove to a construction site just outside Tullahoma to show my mother, sister and me where an Army camp was being built. It would be named Camp Forrest and would become one of the largest Army training bases during WWII. It had a tremendous effect on the town. How much? You had to have been there to fully appreciate it pretty much tells the story.

Residents Welcome Workers and Troops Into Their Homes
Prior to the beginning of construction of Camp Forrest, Tullahoma was a sleepy little town of 4,500 residents. No one dreamed that in a matter of a few years there would be 75,000 people in and around Tullahoma. Residents were asked to make rooms and other living spaces available to construction workers and those who came in and opened businesses to support the growing population. When troops were assigned to the post residents made even more space available for wives, girl friends, parents and others. My parents rented a room and we had some very nice and very interesting occupants. There was the wife (school teacher) of a band director from Moline, Illinois. He was a warrant officer in a national guard unit that had been called to active duty. Then there was an artist who came to visit her husband. My sister, who was four or five at the time, still has several watercolor renderings the woman did of her. The woman who served as director of the Women’s USO roomed with us for quite some time and we spent many hours at the building, a former residence. An interesting experience one night at our house involving a roomer came as we were sitting in the living room talking. She looked at my father and calmly said, “There’s a man peeking in the side window.” Dad arose and slowly walked towards the back of the house. He slipped out the back door and went around the house behind the shrubbery to where he could see the man. It was a soldier. Dad was on him before he knew what was happening. He reached up with his right hand and got hold of the man’s collar and twisted it along with his tie. His Mason’s ring was putting pressure on the man’s Adams apple. He led him to the front door and asked mother to call the police. The call was monitored by the Military Police so they sent a vehicle to pick up the man. What made this so interesting was that my father, who was a WWI ammunition truck drive in France, was about five feet seven inches tall but quite fearless.

Like many towns and cities we had air raid drills conducted by wardens who were assisted by messengers. I was a messenger. When the warden I worked with saw lights during a drill he would instruct me to go up to the house, knock on the door and ask them to turn off the lights. We used flashlights with blue paper over the lens so the light could not be spotted from aircraft.

 

War Bonds
To help finance the war effort people were encouraged to buy war bonds. I still remember a song that was used to spur bond sales:

Any bonds, today? Bonds of freedom, that’s what we’re selling, any bonds, today? Scrape up the most you can, here comes the freedom man, asking you to buy a share of freedom, today.”

School students were encouraged to participate by buying Defense Postal Savings Stamps. They came in 10-cent, 25-cent, 50-cent, $1 and $5 values. With the purchase of the first of each kind of stamp we received a Defense Stamp Album.

Office of Price Administration, Americans Sacrifice
President Roosevelt created the Office of Price Administration in August 1941. The OPA was charged with distributing and keeping track of ration stamp books. Rationing was not too bad for us since there were two children in the family and we all received ration stamp books. Stamps were different colors and had different values. Red and blue ones were worth more than green and brown ones. Red and blue tokens were used to make change for red and blue stamps. Gas and tires were rationed but we lived close enough to my father’s workplace that he walked to work. This meant we could take our traditional Sunday afternoon drives. On one occasion we found two soldiers walking and Dad stopped to ask if they would like to accompany us on our ride. They got in the back seat and held my sister and me during the ride. Afterwards we took them to our house. They were part of the 33rd Division from Illinois and were homesick. Their names were Jack Carlson and “Pete” Peterson. We saw them a number of times before their unit shipped out.

 

All across the United States people were asked to salvage a lot of items that had previously been thrown out, including newspapers and magazines. There was a competitive drive in Tullahoma and I don’t recall if it was through the Boy Scouts or just a general drive sponsored by the city but I was a participant. My father found a large heavy corrugated box and helped me tie it on my wagon. I went to friends and strangers alike and asked if they had newspapers and magazines I could pick up. In the process I was in attics, storerooms, basements, sheds and barns and handled hundreds of pounds of both dusty and damp paper. The best I remember I came in second, walking and using only my wagon.

Upcoming Invasion
Camp Forrest was huge, covering 85,000 acres. I believe every classification of Army personnel was trained there. From the day the United States declared war on Germany it was no secret that eventually there would be an invasion of Europe. In preparation for the invasion thousands of troops began arriving at the post for maneuvers. Middle Tennessee was chosen since the terrain more nearly resembled that of France. While a lot of the maneuvers took place in the country outside of towns, it was not uncommon to see vehicles, men and weapons set up inside Tullahoma. One morning I went out the front door and saw a soldier in a tree near the street. He told me to be quiet and move away so as not to give away his position. Another time an anti-tank gun and crew was set up in front of our house, watching traffic at an intersection on the main street.

William Northern Field, on the other side of town from the camp, was a B-24 heavy-bomber training base. Townspeople parked on a road known as “bombers lane” to watch the B-24’s do touch and go landings. But it was also a staging area for transport planes that took paratrooper trainees from the camp to a practice drop zone between Tullahoma and Manchester. We joined many other residents in watching the troopers jump. It was always exciting but on one occasion turned tragic as a man’s chute opened but failed to deploy. It was known as a “roman candle.” He did not survive the fall. Northern Field was also a staging area for transports that towed gliders loaded with troops and supplies to a landing area between Tullahoma and Shelbyville.

 
Selling Newspapers
Some of my most interesting experiences during the war came one summer. A neighbor boy one year older than me asked if I would like to go with him the next day to sell newspapers out at Camp Forrest. The good news was I caught my mother in a weak moment because she said I could do it. The bad news was that the agent would come by before daylight to pick us up. His name was Roy Angel and he was a senior in high school. The agent he worked for was the high school coach. Roy drove a Ford “woody” station wagon. There were no windows; the seats had been removed so the back could be filled with bundles of papers. Other sleepy boys like me climbed through the openings and rode on the bundles. Camp Forrest was laid out in numbered blocks. Each boy had certain blocks to work and when we arrived at those locations we climbed out and bundles of papers were thrown out. It was a simple operation – sell all your papers and then you could go home. I remember putting papers under a PX building that was up on piers due to uneven ground. A rock kept the papers from blowing and there was a tin can for money. Roy came out at a prearranged time to pick us up and take us back to town. The only thing I had to buy before I began selling was a leather money pouch. I would take a bunch of papers under one arm and go through barracks, day rooms, mess halls, hospital wards and any other places where soldiers had leisure time. There were no delivery routes but once I sold papers to were no delivery routes but

once I sold papers to some of them they would ask me to come by every day. If we missed Roy’s pickup we could catch a bus and ride back to Tullahoma. Right after lunch we went to the office and turned in money for the papers we sold that morning. Papers just received were loaded in the woody, we climbed in and the whole process began over again. Roy worked until 1944 when the camp closed. He entered the military shortly thereafter. There was at least one other paper distributing company. Their employees sold papers that were selected according to home states and hometowns of the troops in training. Their papers came from cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City.

Several things stand out in my mind regarding my summer of selling papers at Camp Forrest. One morning as I was going around picking up money prior to catching a bus for Tullahoma I got to the location under a PX and found a boy from another company had left a stack of his papers and taken the money soldiers had left when they bought one of my papers. The only thing for me to do was try to sell the other papers so I would have money to turn in for my papers. I went in a nearby barracks and a soldier asked me what I was doing back there so soon. After telling him what happened he said, “Here, give me those papers.” He went to other soldiers in the barracks and said, “Buy a paper!” When he came back he handed me money that represented a lot more than the printed sales price of the papers. My age and small size probably had something to do with it.

For several weeks I sold in the base hospital. There were a number of wards in separate buildings connected by a series of hallways. One morning I put a stack of papers in a hallway and since it was so early I sat down beside the papers. I went to sleep and slumped over where my head came to rest on the papers. When I awoke there was money in my tin can and several people told me some really cute nurses came along, saw me asleep and gently lifted my head so they could get papers. I took a lot of kidding about the incident. I didn’t remember anything about it. All I can say is there was money in the can.

 
A Boys Dream
With a war going on and living next door to an Army camp it is easy to understand why one of our favorite things was playing war. In addition to making a little money selling newspapers at the camp I ended up with a lot of Army equipment. Soldiers gave me cartridge belts, web belts with holes for attaching canteen holders and medical bandage pouches, mess kits, canteens, a pack, a gas mask bag (with a man’s name and all his duty stations,) a helmet liner, a steel helmet with a broken strap and an army blanket. One soldier gave me pictures of warplanes (presented by Coca Cola) that hung in day rooms. But the neatest thing is an Indian head carved from a cedar log and inscribed “Tennessee Maneuvers, 1943, by Kirby.”  He also gave me a small carving of a zebra. It is only about an inch tall.

 

Presidents Visit
Another memorable time was when President Franklin Roosevelt visited the camp. I watched his motorcade from in front of a service club building on the main road into the post.

Camp Peay
As if Camp Forrest and Northern Field weren’t enough, there was a third thing that made Tullahoma unique. In 1926, Tennessee built a national guard camp on the eastern outskirts and named it Camp Peay after 1920’s Governor Austin Peay. In 1943 a POW camp was established in what had been the Camp Peay/Camp Forrest area. The wife of a camp commander was a roomer at our house. We went to the camp with her several times to eat.

Many times I have thought about the men and women to whom I sold papers, those who stayed at our house or who visited us and all the others with whom we had contact during the days of Camp Forrest. Did they survive the invasion? Did they return home after the war? I will always have fond memories of them.

It’s a small world, isn’t it!