Crowd saying goodbye to men leaving for
Library Photograph Collection
World War II, 1939-1945
During World War II Tennessee and its citizens contributed generously to the war effort. Many put their lives on the line as soldiers, sailors, and airmen: 315,501 Tennesseans served in the various theaters of the war, and 5,731 lost their lives.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the nation trained at various Tennessee military camps: Camp Forrest was an induction and infantry training center, Fort Campbell was an armor training facility, and Fort Tyson was a barrage balloon center near Paris, Tennessee. Pilots trained at several small airports throughout the state; important bases for the training of pilots and crews were located in Smyrna and near Dyersburg, and an air ferry command was located in Memphis. The 3800-acre Naval Air Station (NAS) Memphis, located in Millington, was the country's largest inland naval base.
Many Tennessee servicemen were inducted at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, in the early stages of the war. Later in the war, Tennessee servicemen would be inducted at Camp Forrest. Tennessee women joining the WAC (Women's Army Corps) trained at Fort Oglethorpe throughout the war. Other women served in the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the Coast Guard SPARS (a contraction of the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus), the Women Marines, and the WASPS (Women's Air Force Service Pilots).
Workers assembling P-38 Lightning fighters
Library Photograph Collection
Over twenty counties in Middle Tennessee were used for the Tennessee Maneuvers, which were headquartered at Cumberland University in Lebanon (officially referred to as "somewhere in Tennessee”). The central part of the state was selected as the site of these war games not only because of its proximity to railroads and federal highways, but also because of the similarity between its terrain and that of western Europe. Red and Blue "armies" faced each other in complex and realistic training exercises. More than 800,000 men and women participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers, which, though successful in training military personnel, also produced over $4 million in claims by individuals and municipalities for destruction of property by the opposing “armies.”
Camps Forrest, Campbell, and Tyson had other uses besides inducting and training soldiers. All three bases additionally served as prisoner-of-war camps for German, Italian, and Austrian POWs through 1946. Prisoners were also held at Tellico Plains, Crossville, Memphis, Lawrenceburg, and Nashville. Camp Forrest, which was the headquarters for several permanent and temporary POW camps in five southeastern states, processed approximately 68,000 prisoners.
Robert C. Coy
Robert C. Coy was a private in the Battery B, 306th Coast Artillery Barrage Balloon Battalion. He was originally stationed at Camp Tyson, located nine miles south of Paris, Tennessee and named after World War I hero Brigadier General David Lawrence Tyson, another Tennessean. The camp, which covered 1,900 acres, consisted of nine battalion areas.
Barrage balloons are large balloons tethered to the ground by metal cables. First used in Britain in 1938, they were used to defend cities and other key targets against enemy dive bombers or low-level-attack aircraft, which were disabled if they collided with the cables. By the middle of 1940, there were 1,400 balloons, a third of them over the London area. By 1944 the number had risen to nearly 3,000.
Great Britain was not the only country interested in aerial barriers. Many Americans would be surprised to know that the United States had its own extensive barrage balloon defense during the early part of World War II. In fact, many areas of the West Coast had balloon curtains protecting cities, factories, and harbors. By August 1942 approximately 430 balloons were defending important areas in California, Oregon, and Washington against low-level attack. Several balloon units were also sent overseas into combat.
General Frank Maxwell Andrews
General Frank Maxwell Andrews was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on February 3, 1884. After his graduation from Montgomery Bell Academy, he attended the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1911 he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and served as a cavalry officer in the Philippines and Hawaii. Shortly after the start of World War I, Andrews was transferred to the Aviation Section, U. S. Signal Corps, where he earned his aviator wings. During World War I he commanded various airfields around the country and served in the War Plans Division of the Army General Staff in Washington, D. C.
In 1940 Andrews assumed control of the Air Corps Panama Canal Air Force, and in 1941 he became commander of the Caribbean Defense Command. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, he was appointed commander of the United States European Theater of Operations, replacing Dwight D. Eisenhower. During an inspection tour on May 3, 1943, General Andrews and thirteen others died in a plane crash on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland. At the time of his death he was ranked Commanding General, United States Forces, European Theatre of Operations, and was the highest-ranking Allied officer to die in the line of duty by that point in the war.
General Andrews was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. On February 7, 1945, Maryland’s Camp Springs Army Air Field was renamed Andrews Field (later Andrews Air Force Base).
Hardy A. Mitchener
Hardy A. Mitchener, Jr., of Nashville, left for Europe on April 3, 1944. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 509th Bombardment Squadron, 351st Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force stationed at Polebrook, England and was the navigator aboard a B-17G piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Crawford E. Hicks. The other crewmembers were 2nd Lieutenant Eugene J. Bianco (co-pilot), 2nd Lieutenant Lester L. Kunz (bombardier), Sergeant Francis E. Young (top turret gunner), Sergeant Ulis C. Briggs (radio operator), Sergeant Lowell A. Reid (left waist gunner), Sergeant Marvin R. Allen (right waist gunner), Sergeant Stephen N. Vasilik (ball turret gunner), and Sergeant Kenneth E. Geldermann (tail gunner). Their plane, Li'l Ginny (ID# 42-31725), was shot down by FW-190 fighters on May 30, 1944, during a mission to bomb the aircraft plant in Oschersleben.
Kunz was the only crew member killed during the action. He was hit in the chest by a 20mm canon round from a FW-190 fighter. The crew members' reports vary in their accounts of when he died. Some claimed he was killed instantly; others claimed that he was in the process of dying as the plane started to go down. In any event, he was dead by the time the plane crashed. His body was recovered from the wreckage and buried a few days later. Mitchener, Hicks, and Bianco were imprisoned at Stalag Luft III near Sagan, Germany (now Zagan, Poland) and placed in the same barracks room. Stalag Luft III was also the site of the “Great Escape” of March 24/25, 1944, in which 80 POWs attempted to escape (all but 3 were recaptured and Hitler personally ordered the execution of 50 of the escapees).
Lt. Crawford E. Hicks (standing/left) &
Hardy A. Mitchener, Jr. Collection
The Jenny Lee is a different B-17 from
Stalag Luft III was evacuated on the night of January 27/28, 1945, when the Soviet army was only about 12.5 miles from the camp. On January 29th, the prisoners reached Muskau, where they stayed for thirty hours in an empty factory. The prisoners were then loaded onto boxcars and spent the next three days being transported to Stalag Luft VIIA in Moosburg (north of Munich). Mitchener’s journal details parts of the evacuation to Moosburg. According to newspaper reports, he was liberated by US troops around April 29, 1945.
During his time in the camp, Mitchener kept a diary of his experiences; it contained detailed drawings of camp life as well as documentation of the prisoners' rapid evacuation of Stalag Luft III. Mitchener also included cartoons, songs, and poems in his diary, along with numerous observations about the prisoners' depression, boredom, frustration, and overpowering desire for freedom. He returned home from the war without physical injury, but died in 1957 from cancer. He was only 38 years old.
Ben Clay Espey
Ben Clay Espey was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on January 28, 1924, and was the son of Ben King Espey and Nannie Mae Windrow Espey. At the age of 16, he received his private pilot’s license. He was a member of McKendree Methodist Church and attended Duncan Preparatory School. After his graduation in 1940, he attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, where he received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan scholarship and was a member of the Beta Theta chapter of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, the German club and the golf club. During his junior year at the University of the South, he volunteered as an aviation cadet, and in December of 1942, he was called into active duty. He was stationed in North Africa and Southern Italy. While stationed in Italy, he was the cartoonist for the 15th Air Force’s paper and fashioned the character “Sir Donald McAce.” He served in combat with the 15th Air Force and participated in air offensives over the Balkans, Austria, Germany, Romania and Italy. He was killed on April 15, 1944 while returning from a bombing mission over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. At the time of his death, he was working as a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress that was attacked by German fighter planes. Sgt. Espey’s parachute was seen falling toward the front of his plane by the crew members of other aircraft participating in the mission. It was thought for a time that he might have survived the attack and was listed as missing in action. On May 20, 1944, however, the War Department notified his parents that he had actually been killed during the confrontation with the German fighter planes. His remains were found and returned to Tennessee in 1950. His funeral and burial took place on March 23, 1950. He is buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville, Tennessee. He received several medals and honors including the Air Corps Citation, the Purple Heart, a Presidential Citation, and the Air Medal.
Clarence Higgins was born June 17, 1922 in Erwin, Tennessee. He joined the U. S. Navy on July 31, 1940, and attended training camp at Naval Training Station at Norfolk, Virginia. Afterwards he was assigned to the light cruiser USS St. Louis as an electrician's mate. He was aboard the St. Louis in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. He had just finished eating his breakfast and was up on the ship’s deck when he noticed several aircraft approaching at an exceptionally low altitude. The aircraft were headed in the direction of “battleship row” when they began dropping torpedoes in the harbor. He immediately ran to the bridge of the ship to inform the officer on duty that they were under attack. Higgins was ordered to go wake up Commanding Officer, Captain G. A. Rood, who opted to forgo changing into uniform and appeared on deck in his pajamas and hat. As Higgins returned to the deck he noticed large red balls on the wings of the enemy aircraft and realized they were the Japanese.
It took the St. Louis about an hour and half to get underway. As they were leaving, Higgins saw a man in the water surrounded by burning oil. As the man was pulled to safety his uniform caught on fire and he was engulfed in flames. Higgins tore off the man’s burning uniform but he still received severe burns.
Higgins also witnessed the bombing of the USS Arizona. In his veteran's survey, he said it was the largest explosion he had ever seen: it looked as if the battleship was lifted out of the water and he could see daylight underneath the hull for a second.
Higgins went on to serve in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre, serving as an electrician's mate aboard the submarines USS Sunfish, USS Loggerhead, and USS Skate. He was awarded the WWII Victory Medal, American Area Campaign medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal, and the Combat Insignia Award. He was aboard the USS Loggerhead on patrol in the Pacific when the war ended.
James W. Smith
James W. Smith was born on June 29, 1920 in Elizabethton, Tennessee. In July of 1936, Smith quit high school and joined the U. S. Army. He was shipped to Honolulu for basic training at Schofield Barracks. After three years he returned to Tennessee, just barely missing the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, Smith decided to join the army again. He was assigned to a paratrooper unit in the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, known as the "Red Devils," and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In December 1943, he was shipped to Nottingham, England, to prepare for the invasion. On June 6, 1944, his regiment, along with the 82nd Airborne Division, parachuted into France near Sainte-Mère-Église at the beginning of what is known as Operation Overlord. They fought for 33 days without relief or rations. They obtained food from a captured cheese factory and killed cows. Once relieved from combat, the regiment returned to England with only 33 of the 160 men that parachuted in.
In December 1944 his regiment received orders to depart for Belgium, despite not having been issued new clothing or weapons, because the German Army had crossed US lines. This was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. Smith was in the same foxhole for Christmas of 1944 and New Year of 1945. The regiment jumped off January 2, 1945, fighting the German Army back through central Europe. Smith was in Paris when the war ended in May of 1945.
Smith spent the next 23 years serving in the Army with the 82nd Airborne Division. He fought in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
General Clifton B. Cates
General Clifton B. Cates was born on August 31, 1893, in Tiptonville, Tennessee. He attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville before joining the U. S. Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant in June 1917. As a member of the 6th Marine Regiment in World War I, he participated in the Aisne-Marne Defensive, where he was both gassed and wounded, and in the Aisne-Marne Offensive, where was wounded for a second time. He was awarded the Navy Cross for bravery in the Aisne-Marne Defensive for leading his command despite the fact he was rendered temporarily unconscious when a bullet struck his helmet. He also earned the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Croix de Guerre with two Palms and a Gold Star. He was twice cited in the general orders of the Second Division, A.E.F., and once by the Commanding General, A.E.F.
In May of 1942, following the United States’ entrance into World War II, General Cates became the Commanding Officer of the 1st Marine Regiment and led the regiment in the seizure and defense of Guadalacanal in the Pacific theatre. For outstanding leadership in this capacity he received the Legion of Merit.
Gov. Gordon Browning & Gen. Clifton B. Cates
THS Photograph Collection
In 1944 he was promoted to Commanding General of the 4th Marine Division. In July of that year, General Cates led the division in the seizure of Tinian Island, continuing to command the division through the Iwo Jima Operation. For his part in these two operations he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and Gold Star. On January 1, 1948, he was awarded the rank of General and became the Commandant of the Marine Corps, succeeding General Alexander A. Vandegrift.
General Cates retired in 1954. He died June 4, 1970, after a long illness and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Workers assembling P-38 Lightning fighters
Library Photograph Collection
Women on the Home Front
During World War II over six million women took wartime jobs in factories or farms, three million women volunteered with the Red Cross, and over 200,000 women served in the military. As men were shipped overseas by the thousands, women had to take over jobs traditionally held by men, despite their lack of experience. Women took important jobs in such factories as the Vultee Aircraft Plant in Nashville, where approximately one-third of the wartime employees were women. This plant built O-49 observation planes, A-35 Vengeance dive bombers, and P-38 Lightning fighters. Any woman who worked in the factories was soon dubbed "Rosie the Riveter" after a popular cartoon figure.
Workers assembling P-38 Lightning fighters
Library Photograph Collection
Other women joined military auxiliaries like the WASPs, WACs, and WAVES to help with the war effort. WASPs ferried aircrafts and performed flying duties around the United States; the women in WAC packed parachutes and worked as typists, postal workers, and switchboard operators. In 1945 Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, "During the time I have had WACs under my command they have met every test assigned to them . . . Their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable."
Some women chose to fight the war from their homes by creating "Victory Gardens." Women used their ability to can, cook, preserve, sew, and salvage to provide the goods necessary to win the war. Such women engaged in what some historians have called "domestic patriotism."
Henrietta Hickman Morgan
Henrietta Hickman Morgan was born in 1917 in Gallatin, Tennessee. The daughter of Davidson County Judge Litton Hickman, she attended Ward-Belmont Preparatory School and Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and Phi Beta Kappa honorary scholastic fraternity, and she was one of the first women to be editor of The Masquerader, the university’s humor magazine. Morgan was also a member of the Junior League, the Girls Cotillion Club, the Nashville Query Club, and the Nashville Red Cross Moto Corps, of which she was captain. She graduated from Vanderbilt in 1938.
In September 1942 Morgan volunteered for service with the WAVES and received her naval training at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Appointed a midshipman in November 1942, she was commissioned an ensign the following month. She was among 50 students selected from a class of 900 for early graduation. Upon reporting for duty in Washington the day after receiving her commission, she became an aide to the director of convoy and routing. She was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, in February 1944.
Lieutenant Morgan was hospitalized at Bethesda Naval Hospital on July 20, 1944, with an undisclosed illness. She died April 27, 1945, shortly before the end of the war.
Section researched and written by Kim Mills, Archival Assistant.