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World War II


After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Alabamians rushed to volunteer for military service. Citizens bought war bonds, received training in civil defense, and endured rationing. Industries converted to wartime production. Infantrymen, chemical warfare troops, and aviators, including the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen, trained at military bases across the state. Children collected scrap metal and paper to be recycled for the war effort.


More than 321,000 Alabamians served in uniform around the globe. Some won distinction, including fourteen Medal of Honor recipients. Most simply served with bravery and determination, intent on winning the war and returning to their lives in Alabama. More than six thousand Alabamians died. Those who survived came home as heroes, changed both by combat and by exposure to new ideas, people, and places.


“We’ll win this war…for winning the war means returning to home, and home and what it stands for is what we are fighting for.” Lt. Charlie Beavers, Birmingham, writing from Italy, 1944


During the war, shipyards, ordnance works, coal mines, iron furnaces, lumber mills, and textile mills expanded and operated around the clock.


Birmingham, hit hard by the Depression, rebounded to become “the great arsenal of the South.” A massive influx of shipbuilding workers and troops made Mobile the most crowded port city in the U.S. Even small towns bulged with workers who built and worked in critical wartime factories such as a gunpowder plant in Childersburg.


With so many men serving in uniform, women stepped in to perform industrial jobs traditionally not available to them. Although black workers faced discrimination in wartime plants, the need for more workers created new opportunities that challenged the status quo.


Among one hundred T-2 tankers built in Mobile was the SS Tule Canyon, launched on May 31, 1944. It was constructed by an all-black crew in 79 days, breaking all previous records for production in the shipyard.

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