At least 60 White County names were read aloud at the recent White County Historical Society Dinner, as family members stood in their honor. Evansville Wartime Museum representatives Jeff Deig and Steve Witte named all the known World War 2 factory workers from the White County area and applauded their contributions to the war effort. The dinner and presentation was held at the First Christian Church in Carmi on Monday, April 8, and was catered by Yesterday’s.
Deig and Witte shared accounts of some 200 factories in Evansville which were quickly converted from making cars, fridges and other household items, to making planes, ships, dozers, bayonets, axes and Bailey Bridges, a type of portable, pre-fabricated truss bridge used to span areas where bridges had been destroyed. They were light, but strong enough to carry a tank. Factories that re-fabricated tanks ended up making tanks. With 13% unemployment in 1940, a committee of men from Evansville traveled to Washington, D.C. and spoke with the Department of Defense, saying if anything needed to be “stamped, sanded, riveted, cut, welded or painted, then Evansville, Indiana was the place to get it done.” They also noted that Evansville had a river close by for shipping. The area not only produced a lot of different products for the war effort, they also received awards for their work. Fifteen different companies received the Army Navy Award, for a total of 37 awards for their production. Not only planes, ships, tanks and parts were made, but the Mead and Johnson company developed a blood protein product to give to wounded men in the field that helped save their lives.
A lot of the work in Evansville was done by women. A group of women called the ferry pilots set the gun sights, tested brakes and could fly almost all types of planes.
The P-47 Thunderbolt, first manufactured in 1942 with its 8 machine guns, was a transport plane made at the Republic Aviation Plant in Evansville. Almost 50%, some 6500 in number, of P-47s came out of the plant. The first test plane called the Hoosier Spirit never saw combat. Modification centers converted two-pilot panes to one-pilot planes. The Evansville Ordinance Plant (formerly a Chrysler plant) made enough .45 caliber ammunition to circle the earth 2.5 times, manufacturing some 3.2 billion rounds; that was 96% of the ammunition used in the whole war.
Some women donated their time to the Red Cross Canteen where in an average day, 1280 meals were served. The canteen opened in 1942, and was the last one to close after the war, after serving some 6 million meals. The Canteen was located at the corner of Ohio and Fulton Ave., next to the L & N Railroad Depot and was supplied by citizens from the tri-state area, from small towns, church groups, neighborhoods, a street, a city block, a store or a war plant.
A recreated store front of the Red Cross Canteen can be seen at the Evansville Wartime Museum as well as the history of all the Evansville factories that were converted to build the equipment needed to supply a nation at war.
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