Nebraska during World War II
The Nebraska National Guard, the 134th Infantry, was mobilized December 1940. They were placed in the 35th Division in Arkansas. In 1942, Companies E, F, G, and H of the 134th were transferred to the 197th Infantry and served in the Aleutian Islands as part of a secret mission to stop Japanese expansion. The rest of the 134th was eventually sent to Europe in 1944. They were involved in the four-day battle at St. Lo, France, and later the Battle of the Buldge.
Nebraska was home to many new air bases built by the Army Air Force, safe from the potential reach of Japanese or German planes on the coast. These air bases included the towns of Ainsworth, Alliance, Bruning, Fairmont, Fort Crook, Grand Island, Harvard, Kearney, Lincoln, McCook, Scottsbluff and Scribner. The K-9 Corps established a training center at Fort Robinson, and it became the largest K-9 reception center in the nation. Dogs were trained for the Army, Army Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and civilian agencies there. The kennel area housed 1,800 dogs.
The Martin Bomber Plant in Omaha was commissioned in September 1940. The plant produced over 1500 B-26 bombers, and 500 B0-29 Superfortresses. Other plants include the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot (which supplied 40% of the Navy’s ammunition during the war), the Nebraska Ordnance Plant, the Cornhusker Ordnance Plant, and the Sioux Ordnance Depot. These created many jobs for Nebraska. The pay was relatively high, but many workers came because they thought it was their patriotic duty. The Martin plant had over 13,000 people working. Unfortunately, all the workers needed a place to live. Many farmers had their land bought by the government at unfair prices and were themselves displaced so that housing could be built.
Japanese-Americans in Nebraska were not sent to internment camps, as they were too far from the West coast. However, some were restricted from accessing their bank accounts. The University of Nebraska officially approved admitting “Japanese students” as long as they were cleared by the FBI. Many of the young Japanese-Americans were attempting to flee the west coast to avoid going to internment camps. There were 50 Nisei — children born in America to Japanese parents — at the University of Nebraska (the maximum allowed by the University’s policy).
Nebraska was home to several POW camps. The main base camps were in Scottsbluff, Fort Robinson, and Atlanta. Smaller satellite camps were located in several towns, including Templeton. At Fort Robinson, prisoners helped to maintain the post and the thousands of horses and mules there. The first prisoners arrived in November of 1943. They were 600 Germans of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The prisoners were treated well, and could even take classes. Many of them played soccer, and although the sport was new to Nebraska, citizens came to cheer the games. Some POWs worked in the surrounding communities, especially on local farms and ranches that were short-handed. By the end of the war, Fort Robinson could hold 3,000 inmates. The last few POWs did not leave the camp until 1946. Some of them found American sponsors and returned to live in Nebraska.
Victory Gardens sprouted (pardon the pun) everywhere. People were encouraged to plant gardens to grow their own food. Half of the vegetables grown in the United States in 1943 came from victory gardens.
Rationing was prevalent during the war. First tires, and eventually many bicycles, cars, footwear, gasoline, and many foodstuffs, including sugar and coffee. Nebraskans went to the local schools to get their ration books. These books, along with price controls, were an attempt to distribute scarce goods equally and control inflation. The ration books continued coupons that had to be turned over when certain items were purchased. If you ran out of coupons, then you simply couldn’t buy the item. Despite meat being a rationed item, sometimes local farmers would butcher meat, and then sell or give the meat to neighbors without a coupon. Gasoline control was especially harsh, with most automobile drivers only allowed 3-5 gallons a week.
Note: Most of the information comes from NebraskaStudies.Org which is filled with first-hand accounts of soldiers and civilians during World War II. I highly recommend browsing the site to get a feel for the people that lived in Nebraska in the 1940s.