Convoys Crossed State, Draftees Faces Aglow Buildup Meant Factory Boom, Population Shift

December 05, 1991|By James Bock

"Hello, Reds!" a soldier shouted from a passing Army truck to a titian-haired young woman standing at North Avenue and Charles Street. "Hi there, Chicken!" called another.

Army convoys rolled through Baltimore Dec. 5 on their return from North Carolina maneuvers, and the city got its first close look at the U.S. military buildup.

The mud-spattered trucks looked a bit bedraggled after the war games. But the soldiers "seemed to have profited by the maneuvers and a glow of health sparkled on their faces," The Sun reported admiringly. "Furthermore, they were jubilant, for most of them had only a few days to wait before starting Christmas leave."

One 24-year-old Massachusetts draftee, Pvt. Victor Golas, became a minor celebrity when his unit mistakenly left him behind directing traffic on Bush Street in South west Baltimore. He spent 42 hours at his post, including an entire night in the rain. Neighbors brought him sandwiches until 1 a.m., and a dark-haired young woman named Charlotte kept him company.

"I had a picnic there for a while, I'm telling you," said the soldier, who finally got some sleep at police headquarters, was praised by his superiors for following orders and boarded a train for Massachusetts. "Anyway, I always wanted to see Baltimore."

*

THE MILES-LONG convoys created havoc on Maryland roads. A gasoline-laden trailer bounced loose from an Army truck, hit an auto and burst into flames in Frederick. At Westminster Pike and Liberty Road, a 6-ton Army truck pulling an anti-aircraft gun collided with a milk tanker, spilling about 2,500 gallons. Farmers scooped up the milk for their livestock.

But the major accident of the balmy December day was the crash of the 70-ton Martin Mars seaplane during its first test run on Darkhead Creek near the Martin defense plant in Middle River. The plane was being taxied toward deep water when it "went out of control, zigzagged and spun toward the shore, beaching itself as smoke and flames suddenly shot from its No. 3 motor," The Sun reported. The FBI ruled out sabotage.

The "emergency" was touching Maryland in many ways. Nearly 40,000 defense workers were building aircraft at the Martin plant. About 27,000 soldiers were stationed at Fort Meade. More than 15,000 Maryland men had been drafted.

... READING THE ADS (culled from The Sun and other Maryland newspapers):

Hear Shirley Temple at 10 p.m. tonight -- WCAO.

Boy's Outfit -- well-made suit, two pairs of knickers, pair of all-weather Gilash shoes, set of underwear, anklets or knicker hose, mannish hat, boy's fine tie. $14.97 at Blum's.

What a few drops of lemon juice do to an oyster, National Bohemian beer does for an entire meal. Brewed to a high standard of quality, never down to a price.

Miles Yancey and his Rhumba Rhythm Caballeros, Conga Room, Schloss's 20th Century Club, 21 W. Oliver Street, near Union Station.

... BY DECEMBER 1941, a major population shift was under way in Maryland. Baltimore, the state's traditional hub, boomed as war contracts poured into city factories. Much of the rest of Central Maryland -- from Cecil County to St. Mary's County -- grew at an even faster rate as defense plants and military installations rapidly expanded.

Meanwhile, in the state's poorest, most rural counties, an exodus had begun. From Allegany and Garrett counties in Western Maryland to Dorchester and Somerset counties on the Lower Shore, young people left farms to be soldiers and defense workers. Nearly four in 10 Marylanders still lived in rural areas, but their way of life was under assault.

Rural Marylanders were skeptical of -- sometimes hostile to -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.

"When the New Deal came into power the Department of Agriculture had approximately 27,000 employees. The farms were raising too much food," editorialized the Hagerstown Morning Herald that first week of December 1941. "In order to help them raise less food, the personnel of the department has been raised to 91,000. With farms short of help, some of the employees in the office might do the farms more good milking cows or slopping hogs."

And Maryland's small-town and farm population was largely unconvinced that the United States needed to jump into "somebody else's war." Like all Americans, they were uncertain about the future.

But rural Marylanders were proud of their "boys" who had been drafted and suddenly found themselves far from home, often for the first time.

Frank Kirby, a former Easton bank officer, wrote a letter home from Hawaii, where he was stationed with the Army. The Easton newspaper published every word. "The general opinion of all the fellows here is about the same -- they would rather be back in the states. But should this not be too long a stay I think that I'll enjoy it," he wrote.

He joked that "if any of the customers want to know where I is -- just tell them I'm spending the winter at Waikiki Beach -- ahem."

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