As published by the Daily News Journal, Sunday, December 26, 2010
By Greg Tucker, President Rutherford County Historical Society
The local power companies reminded customers that outdoor Christmas lighting was prohibited, a service flag with 300 stars hung in the Central High School (CHS) auditorium, and housewives were being urged to save “Fats for Freedom.”
It was December 1943 in Rutherford County.
A difficult Allied advance through Italy was succeeding with heavy losses, and an invasion of occupied France was anticipated. While the nation mourned over 130,000 American war casualties, many more young men were volunteering or being drafted into military service. The enrollment at CHS was down to 450 with two-thirds female. Interscholastic sports were cancelled and the girls were knitting sweaters for military personnel.
Every aspect of daily life in Rutherford County was affected by the war. The family kitchen was no exception. The American Fat Salvage Committee had announced that 230,000,000 pounds of used fats would have to be salvaged annually to meet war needs. “Glycerin, oils and acids needed to wage war” were refined from these recycled fats. The refined products were used to make gunpowder, lubricants, insecticides and medicines.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke to housewives: “One pound of used cooking fat will produce enough glycerin to make a pound and a half of smokeless gunpowder … Our boys fighting in every corner of the globe need that powder and this is one of the ways in which every woman can contribute to the fighting of the war.
“To enlist cooperation of housewives in fat salvage, two brown (or red, ration) points are given for each pound of waste fat turned in to your butcher.”
The ration points could be used by the housewife to purchase rationed commodities, such as beef or butter. Two rationed items sorely missed, remembers Ann Nora Parsons, were coffee and sugar. These imported items were in short supply due to wartime interruption of commercial shipping.
The rationing was also necessary to ensure availability of military supplies. The federal Office of Price Administration reminded farmers in December that “they should continue to collect ration points for all rationed meats-including pork-which they sell or give to friends, neighbors, retailers or anyone else.”
Gasoline, tires and many hard goods were also rationed or simply unavailable. The Rutherford County rationing board met weekly to consider special requests and hardship cases. On December 8, the local War Price and Rationing Board allotted two passenger cars, one bicycle, several pairs of rubber boots, a few stoves and several tires for farm implements, trucks and cars.
The passenger cars were for Smyrna Air Base personnel. (Passenger car production ended in January 1942 by Presidential Order and any “new” cars in 1943 were from pre-war inventories.) Howard S. Brown, 902 West Main, Murfreesboro, got the bicycle. New rubber boots went to J.A. Scott, M.D., Thomas Eady and Eugene Hill. C.C. Alsup, Mrs. Ollie Smotherman, Mrs. Lela Brown, Freeman Hoover and Miss Kathleen Holton were among those getting stoves.
Despite the holiday season, citizens were urged to avoid all “nonessential” travel. Even telephone usage was discouraged. Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph asked its subscribers not to use telephones from 7 to 10 p.m. This time was to be reserved for military personnel calls.
Local clubs, schools, churches and individuals were urged to organize “war bond” and “scrap drives” for money, metals, paper and rubber. Full page newspaper ads by local businesses and merchants, large and small, promoted the sale of war bonds. Scrap drive efforts were acknowledged and celebrated on front pages of the local newspapers.
With young men gone to war, Rutherford experienced full employment and even worker shortages. A somewhat vague call for construction workers appeared in local newspapers: “Construction Laborers needed by Vital War Job in the Vicinity of Knoxville, Tenn. Working 53 hours/week…weekly total of $34.21…room and board on project reservation. Transportation paid. This essential war job needs you if you are now employed in non-essential work…War Manpower Board.” Oak Ridge was top secret and no one in Rutherford had ever heard of the “Manhattan Project” or even imagined a weapon as powerful as the atomic bomb.
But at the old Sky Harbor site, a new company was already part of the project cutting and shaping graphite for use in the Oak Ridge reactor. It was a government contract, and none of the local employees knew how or where the graphite would be used. (According to Manhattan Project physicist Edward Teller, when a fast neutron is emitted in a fission process, it will usually collide with a U-238 nucleus and be absorbed. That stops the chain reaction. Because slow neutrons are more likely to cause fission, the uranium in a reactor is surrounded by a “moderator,” a substance that slows the neutrons without absorbing them. The moderator chosen for the first Oak Ridge reactor was carbon in the form of pure graphite, processed in Rutherford County.)
On December 23, the Selective Service (“Draft”) Board announced that 16 more Rutherford County men had been classified IA (“available for general military service”); eight were classified IIA (“engaged in essential civilian employment”); two were classified IIIC (“engaged in agriculture”); one was given IVF (“unfit for military service”).
Frank Crosslin of Eagleville, classified IA, advertised shortly before Christmas: “Business Property for Sale-To be ready when I am called for induction, I have decided to sell my grain, feed, seed, building material and grocery business … If interested, see me at once.”
By late 1943 Rutherford farmers had become accustomed to Army men and equipment sharing pasture and woods with livestock and wildlife as the military practiced for the invasion of Europe. These Second Army maneuvers reached the “halfway mark” in December, and all troops were directed “to begin at once the work of restoring the maneuver area to the condition in which they found it.” Army leadership also announced that civilian appraisers had been employed “to provide quicker settling of claims for maneuver damage to civilian property.” The new claims office was on the second floor of the Murfreesboro Bank & Trust building across from the Courthouse.
On December 16, Second Army command announced that the Mink Slide area of the Murfreesboro “bottoms” would be “off limits” for soldiers. The prohibited section reached from South Church at Vine south three blocks to Castle, west one block to South Maple, and north to the intersection of Maple and Vine. Authorities were “seeking to combat the spread of venereal disease in the area.”
But the soldiers would be entertained, according to newspaper reports. Towns in the maneuver area planned Christmas and Christmas Eve parties for the soldiers. “Murfreesboro also arranged a Christmas program for Negro troops.” Local residents were encouraged to open their homes to the wives and families of soldiers who were visiting the young men for the holidays. Many were accommodated. At 302 Tennessee Boulevard South, Murfreesboro, the lady of the house kept food and hot drinks available while young brides and brides-to-be met their soldiers in the “private” areas of the house.
Two days before Christmas, Washington sources advices the nation that, because of offensive military initiatives in 1944 (land invasions of territory occupied by German and Japanese forces), “Allied casualties will mount into the hundreds of thousands.”
Greg Tucker can be reached at [email protected].