Traveling Tuesday: Indiana and Its Hoosiers
The mid-western state of Indiana had only been part of the United States for 125 years when it was drawn into World War II. Bordered by Lake Michigan, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois, the state was initially settled by the French. After the territory was released to the British after the French and Indian War, the area was divided between colonists and Native Americans. By the 1840s the US had purchased all of the Natives’ land and removed them to other areas. Europeans began to flock to the area with Germans and the Irish making up the largest percentage.
With the industrial revolution, Indiana became a hotbed of manufacturing, and the state soon developed ties to the automobile industry, boasting more plants than Detroit, Michigan. As with the rest of the nation, Indiana was hit by the Great Depression. The subsequent Dust Bowl sent many people out of the state in search of employment.
Then came World War II.
The almost dormant steel mills went back into full operation producing wartime materiel. New factories were construction creating boomtowns; small villages that explodes from several hundred to several thousand. International Harvester’s Richmond facility went from producing truck parts and pickup trucks to manufacturing the two-and-a-half-ton, six-wheeled cargo trucks. Other factories included RCA where proximity fuses were made, Guide Lamps produced cartridge cases, South Bend Toy created tent poles, and Republic Aviation built P-47 Thunderbolts. Shipyards lined the Ohio River. Ranking eighth among the states, Indiana ultimately produced 4.5% of the US military armaments.
Airfields were installed or expanded, including Baer Army Air Base at Fort Wayne, Stout Field in Indianapolis, Bendix Air Field in South Bend, and others in Evansville, Seymour, and Columbus. Constructed immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Camp Atterbury trained thousands of soldiers and later housed German and Italian POWs. The Camp’s 6,000 bed hospital treated over 85,000 patients during the course of the war.
Approximately 338,000 men fought in the war (about 10% of the population), with over 13,000 losing their lives. More than 118,000 of Indiana’s women also served in the military. Unsurprisingly, the state fair and the Indianapolis 500 closed until after the war.
Indiana has been home to two presidents, numerous athletes, entrepreneurs, actors, musicians, and celebrities. It also produced two writers during WWII. The first, Ernie Pyle, was a journalist who traveled far and wide to report on the war. He focused on the ordinary enlisted soldier and often listed them by name and hometown in his articles. Pyle won awards or his reporting and was killed by machine gun fire on April 18, 1945, just three weeks before VE day. The other writer, Kurt Vonnegut, dropped out of college to enlist and experience the war as a soldier. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he survived the bombing at Dresden by hiding in a meat locker. He published his first novel in 1952, but would not see commercial success until 1969 with the release of Slaughterhouse-Five.
Just as important, if not more so are the women on the home front who kept the farms going, raised their children, and waited for their husbands to come home. Said one Indiana housewife, Virginia Mayberry, “It takes all kinds of people to fight a war, even a popular war like WWII. There are soldiers and sailors. There are spies and nurses and aviators. And then there are those who only stand and wait. Service wives are like that; I was a draftee’s wife.”
Now available: The Wartime Brides Collection. You can read this four-book collection all at once! Inspired by exciting and romantic stories from the Bible (Ruth and Boaz, Shiprah and Puah, Rahab and Salmon, and Rebekkah and Isaac) each book is a modern retelling set during WWII.