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Johnny Vardeman: What life was like on homefront during World War II
Johnny Vardeman

The summer of 1944 America was in the middle of World War II, Allied forces not yet victorious in Europe.

People couldn’t tell it at the time, but the war on that continent would be winding down shortly with D-Day success providing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Hall County was on a war footing, for sure. Rationing and shortages were common. War bond drives were constant. Young men and women were either still joining the armed services or being drafted. The Red Cross appealed regularly for blood in drives around the area.

Anticipating a shortage in the coming winter, Northeast Georgians were urged to get their orders of coal in even though the temperature at the time was nearing 100. There also were warnings about sugar shortages, though the government announced some supplies would be forthcoming.

The same with tires, although stores were saying they would soon be plentiful. You could buy a Goodyear tire for $16.05. People with cars were having to be careful with their trips as gas shortages were common.

With ration coupons so valuable, citizens were warned to look out for counterfeit books.

The fifth War Loan campaign was under way that summer of 1944, and Hall County in a few weeks exceeded its goal of $1.3 million. J.C. Platt, M.C. Stone and Lester Hosch led the drive.

Salvage drives were constant, too, with appeals for scrap tin, fat, paper and other materials needed in the war effort. There also was an announcement how people could bid on surplus goods not needed for the military.

What is now Lee Gilmer Airport was teeming with Navy personnel being prepared for duty. Additional barracks were being built, but 15 WAVES had to use dormitories at Brenau Academy temporarily. They were being trained in the U.S. Navy Air Navigational Radio School at the airport.

Gainesville’s weekly newspapers were filled with news about military personnel from this area. Pictures of them were on the front pages and throughout every week’s editions and explaining where they were serving. For instance, there were pictures of brothers Wilburn, William Sidney and Curtis Peeples, sons of Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Peeples of New Holland, all serving in the Navy.

Casualty reports of area servicemen and women also came in. While it would seem there might have been more fatalities, the Gainesville Eagle reported the first Hall County death in World War II was Ennis L. Roberts in the Coast Guard. He had been killed in action in January 1942 near Iceland. Roberts’ twin brother, Aubrey, served in the Marines in the South Pacific. They were the sons of Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Roberts of Flowery Branch.

Forty-seven more people were being called for examination to see if they were fit for action. A recruiter from the Women’s Army Corps, or WACs, came to Hall County trying to fill the ranks of that branch of the military. The Georgia State Guard, what is now called the National Guard, was being trained at Fort Benning near Columbus. Pat Ledford, Roy Judson and Heyward Hosch Jr. were among Hall Countians in the Guard.

The Rev. Frank Crawley, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church on Washington Street for only a few months, announced he had been drafted as a Navy chaplain. The Rev. Hubert Dodd of Rome would succeed him.

It would seem during the middle of a war wouldn’t be time to do it, but Gainesville was paving over the brick streets around the public square. They had been in place more than 35 years. Only in recent years have those original bricks been removed from underneath the paving, and they are prized relics for those fortunate enough to scavenge some.

Other activities also seemed normal. J.B. McKibbon was the retiring president of the Bob Russell Sunday School Class, an interdenominational class, and he wore a formal suit with tails to his last meeting, fulfilling a pledge to do so if the membership reached 100. J.D. Jewell succeeded him as president.

Charles Starrett was starring in “Sundown Valley” at the Ritz Theater, and movies were still on the screens at the Royal, State and Roxy.

While an epic war raged in Europe and Japan, Northeast Georgians did what they could to pitch in, but trying to maintain whatever could be called normal under unusual circumstances at home.

Coming next week, more news from Northeast Georgia’s past.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays; e-mail.

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