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1941-1950: War years: Stoking the home fires

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, May 4, 2012, at 12:14 p.m.

Photos

On Dec. 7, 1941, Wichita theater owner O.F. Sullivan stopped the film at the Civic Theater and announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

In the days immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 200,000 Kansans signed up for local civil defense programs and classes.

All told, more than 215,000 Kansas men and women served in uniform during the war. Of those, more than 3,500 died in action.

Kansans took this war personally.

During the war, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe was Kansan Dwight D. Eisenhower; his hometown, Abilene.

Kansas companies were assigned tasks.

It was barely nine months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor when employees at Wichita's Coleman Lamp and Stove Co. were given their assignment: Create a one-man stove that's small, lightweight and strong enough to stand abuse.

The company's founder, W.C. Coleman, said of the assignment that "it became imperative to attempt the impossible."

Working around the clock, Coleman employees come up with the Pocket Stove in just 60 days.

At the same time, Wichita's aircraft plants are put to task.

The Wichita-built Boeing line of trainers and the B-29 Superfortress pushed the Wichita factory into the national forefront of military activity during World War II.

During the war, Wichita's Boeing division delivered 1,644 B-29 Super Fortresses and 8,584 Kaydett Trainers.

Beech produced 7,415 military Beechcrafts; Cessna built 5,359 T-50 military Bobcat trainers and 750 gliders. Culver Aircraft, another Wichita aircraft corporation, built 2,448 radio- controlled, pilotless aircraft.

The Waco CG-4 glider, used in the invasion of Normandy, was also built in Wichita in the aisle-ways of Boeing's new Plant II.

During 1944, Boeing's Plant II cafeteria was the biggest restaurant in Kansas. It was equipped to serve 15,000 hot meals a day at 28 cents a meal.

One of the companies that made V-Boxes — the type of boxes families across the nation used to ship treats to relatives serving in the U.S. military — was Love Box of Wichita. The company also made the shipping box for Coleman stoves.

Elsewhere in the state, the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near De Soto began producing more than 200 million pounds of propellants.

Small towns in the state become military bases.

It was a decade where families spent time apart, sacrificed, rationed, made do, used and reused.

Kansas children joined the war effort by collecting milkweed pods for use in making life vests. Officials said 28 ounces of milkweed fiber in a life jacket could keep a flier afloat for 140 hours.

In one month-long scrap drive in fall 1942, Kansans collected 140,000 tons of material reusable in the war effort, about 160 pounds of scrap per resident.

And when the war was over, Kansans were simply grateful when their sons and daughters came home.

"Through the world, it has been my fortune, or my misfortune, to wander at considerable distance," a war-weary Eisenhower told a crowd that gathered to meet him when he returned to Abilene. "Never has this town been outside of my heart and memory."

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