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How holiday was before U.S. entered war

POSTED: November 21, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Thanksgiving season in North Georgia just before the United States officially entered World War II in 1941
already was a somewhat somber time.

The area was in a drought, which not only had affected crops, but at the time caused problems at hydroelectric plants that were the source of much electric power at the time. The power shortage was so severe that lighting of signs, store show windows, outdoor, amusements, sports and ornamental lighting were banned. Gainesville High School had to play Elberton in a day game at City Park to conserve electricity. The Red Elephants won 35-14.

Whether it was related to the drought or not, Southern Bell urged customers to avoid long-distance calls during the company's busiest times between 9 and 11 a.m. and 7 and 8:30 p.m.

On the positive side, Hall County's farm income was the best ever in the past decade, and farmers had paid more than $47,000 off their debts to the Farm Security Administration.

The Gainesville Eagle's thoughts on Thanksgiving 1941 centered on conservation. It hailed such programs as soil conservation and reforestation in North Georgia to return damaged and neglected resources to Mother Nature. It also praised such federal efforts as the Tennessee Valley Authority, flood control along the Mississippi River, construction of Boulder Dam and measures taken to prevent another "Dust Bowl" in the Midwest.

Some things continued as normal. R.E. "Sparky" Spence, who would later become the longtime fire chief of Gainesville, proudly displayed a nine-point buck deer he had nailed along Montgomery Creek in the mountains. First Baptist Church on Green Street was preparing for a union Thanksgiving service with the Methodist preacher, L. Wilkie Collins, to deliver the sermon.

Big Star and Piggly-Wiggly grocery stores advertised steaks for 35 cents a pound, but didn't mention turkeys. Maybe there was a shortage. Plans were being made for a 300-voice Christmas choir composed of choirs from churches in Hall County as well as 12 surrounding communities - "the largest in the South."

The night before Thanksgiving, Gainesville High football fans burned a large bonfire at City Park to rally the team playing Athens the next day at Sanford Stadium. Gainesville had lost only to Russell and Decatur earlier in the season, then would lose to Athens 27-7 with Esco Shaw scoring the Red Elephants' only touchdown while holding the Trojans scoreless in the second half.
Nasty politics wasn't observing the holiday season as Ellis Arnall and Eugene Talmadge launched a bitter gubernatorial campaign.

The American destroyer, Reuben James, sank after a German torpedo attack off the coast of Iceland, and war clouds continued to thicken.

Just a few days after that Thanksgiving season, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress declared war on Japan, Italy and Germany in wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a surprise attack, but local people seemed prepared and resigned to America's further involvement in the war.

E.D. Kenyon activated the Hall County Defense Council, whose job it was to make sure the community was prepared for war on the homefront. The local unit of the Georgia Military Police posed for a picture on the courthouse steps before marching off to duty.

First Baptist Church announced daily prayer meditations for the nation and those called to serve in the military and other areas. The draft board got even busier, and young and old who might have resisted military service earlier now stood in line to help their country.

Volunteer groups such as the Red Cross pitched in to support the war effort. Some complained, but most complied with gas and food rationing and other measures aimed at bolstering America's troops.

Air raid and blackout drills soon followed. Then came the lists of missing and dead from battlefields abroad.
That holiday season of 1941 came before the worst of World War II. Though people speculated their involvement might come at any moment, and times weren't the best, they savored that season perhaps knowing that it would be a few Thanksgivings later before the community and the country would be back to normal.

The war would dampen Christmas celebrations, too, as loved ones departed or prepared to leave for unknown destinations and futures.

n

Correction from Nov. 7 column: E.M. Ham owned the first automobile to operate in Gainesville.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com

 



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