A SALUTE TO LEXINGTON’S GREATEST GENERATION
As America asked her boys to give their all fighting the nation’s enemies abroad, she also asked those that remained at home to devote themselves to the cause as well. Unlike today’s wars, during World War II every American was touched by the war. If you did not have loved ones fighting, you worked in a war factory, bought war bonds, participated in scrap drives, served as air raid wardens, roll bandages, faced rationing and more. Every American was impacted by World War II.
Kentuckians took an active role in home front war activities. The Louisville Slugger factory, in Louisville switched its production from baseball bats to rifle stocks. In Lexington factories produced parachutes. Kentucky was home to 3 army bases, Fort Knox, Fort Campbell, and Camp Breckinridge. During the war Fort Knox was the temporary home to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Bowman’s Field served as the nations first glider pilot combat training facility. German POWs were housed in Kentucky, and were put to work on the states tobacco and hemp farms.
The population of Kentucky changed do to the war. 13% of Kentucky’s population left between the years of 1940 and 1950, to take advantage of the higher paying war related jobs in the north and east. Very few of these people that left returned to Kentucky at the end of the war.
Kentucky saw many of the social changes that were brought about due to the war. Women moved into the work force, driving taxi cabs, standing guard at the Bluegrass Ordinance Depot, working at USO cantinas, led collections efforts, aided hospitals and Red Cross, grew victory gardens, and conducted war bond drives. Even clothing styles changed due to the war. To conserve material; short sleeves became all the rage, bathing suits became smaller, and do to the shortage of nylon hose more women began wearing trousers. Many of the social changes during the war helped to spur the social tensions that lead to rights movements of the 1960s.
After the war the GI Bill allowed our boys returning home to continue their education swelling the halls of both the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University.
Kentucky boys did not fail to jump into action when Uncle Sam called upon them. 306,715 Kentuckians served in the armed forces during World War II, in nearly every theatre of the war. Nearly 8,000 Kentuckians gave their lives during the war.
Kentucky sent her sons to every branch of the armed forces and at all levels. Admiral Willis A Lee of Owen County led the battleships in the Pacific. General Simon B. Buckner Jr. of Hart Count commanded army forces at Okinawa, were he was killed in action. One Kentuckian will be eternally remembered for his presence at the raising of the American Flag on Iwo Jima. Franklin R. Sowsley is pictured in this impressive and beloved photograph.
On the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the Lexington History Museum launched a four-year exhibit honoring those men and women of Lexington who fought the “last good war.” This exhibit featured information about what life was like on the home front, individual soliders stories, and life on the war front. Due to the closing of the Old Courthouse, the exhibit can not be seen in person at this time. Until we can put the exhibit up again, we have provided you wil a rare treat. Attached you will find the actual exhibit panels and images of the exhibits. Keep an eye on our calendar to seen when the exhibit will be relaunched.
We are always looking for more World War II stories. If you have a story to tell, email Debra Watkins firstname.lastname@example.org.