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1941 World War II

Even though Europe had been at war since 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and Japan and China were in conflict, America was determined and confident that it would not be dragged into another world war. People were interested in the “foreign war” and they read the newspaper and listened to the news reports on the radio but it really didn’t overly concern them. It didn’t concern them until December 7, 1941. On that day Japan attacked America’s naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, inflicting terrible damage and loss of life. It was considered to be, among other reasons, a “preventional” attack to keep America’s fleet from interfering with the war in the South Pacific Japan was planning against Britain and her allies. It was also planning to advance into Malaya and the Dutch West Indies which were rich with natural resources the Japanese needed. Whatever the reasons for the attack were, it prompted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to issue a declaration of war against Japan and her allies. Japan was part of The Axis comprised of Germany, Italy and Japan.
America, against her will, was now involved in a global conflict that would consume the entire world.

Global events during the war were so immense it would be impossible to cover them here but it might be interesting to explore how Madison and her residents were affected by the war.

Since 1940 the draft act had been effect. Every man between the ages of 17 to 45 was subject to being inducted into service. Only those with physical or mental defect or those employed in a job that was vital to the war effort were exempt (meaning they were excused). Naturally, the first and most compelling effect on the community was the induction of many of its young men. In Madison an inductee would appear before the draft board located in the armory on Jefferson Street. He would undergo a physical and mental examination and, if deemed fit for service, be given a draft number and wait for orders to report for duty.

Women, too, were an important factor in the services for the first time in history and many joined up. They served as nurses, secretaries, mechanics and in other vital jobs. This would be the first war women would wear the uniform of their chosen branch of service.

Life in Madison changed in many ways. With much of America’s productivity going to the war effort, people learned to sacrifice. In 1942 rationing went into effect. Practically everything essential for everyday life required ration stamps (a kind of coupon good for redemption of specific items). Each person, man, woman or child was issued a certain number of stamps which were printed in little books with the name and address of the owner on the outside and perforated rows of stamps (color coded) on the inside. From sugar to shoes each article, in addition to its monetary cost, required a specified number of stamps. The war board set the requirements and enforced its rules.

Most everyone cooperated and new recipes began to appear which greatly reduced the use of some vital commodities. Most homes practiced meatless meals and Victory Gardens flourished in any patch of land big enough to support a plant. Cucumbers tumbled over wrought iron fences and beans stood proudly next to rosebushes. It is estimated that 20 million people planted victory gardens and they may have supplied as much as forty per cent of the food put on American tables.

Scrap drives were instituted in practically every town in the country. Children especially took part in this activity. On designated days they could be seen pulling wagons through town, knocking on doors and collecting unwanted, worn out or useless articles. They took them to a collection center where they were gathered up for recycling. Children also participated in the buying of war bonds. They filled out little cards with stamps costing ten cents each until they had accumulated enough to purchase a bond Adults also supported the country through the purchase of bonds.

Every home dreaded receiving a telegraph message. This is how the government informed people that a loved one had been killed, wounded or was missing in action. When a telegraph was delivered to a home is was rarely good news.

Women played an important part in the work force during World War II. With so many men overseas, the women began to move into jobs that heretofore they would never have taken. Munitions plants, factories, farms, all forms of work was now being performed by the ladies. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Rosie the Riveter became the representation of every woman who held down a man’s job.

Most towns were required to prepare for the contingency of aerial attacks. One way to prepare was a practice blackout. This meant every household, business and factory had to secure all outside openings in some way so that no light was emitted to the outside by which the town could be spotted from the air. A siren was installed at the city hall building to sound the alarm. On at least one occasion Madison took part in a surprise, practice black out. At about 9:30 p. m. on August 16, 1945 the siren began its mournful wailing and from three different vantage points above the city observers watched the town go completely dark as every street light, advertisement, factory and home light was extinguished or covered. It was a dark, eerie quiet that fell over the town. In a few minutes the siren gave the all clear and life resumed.

In 1943 the United States Office of Information came to Madison to make a film about a typical American town. It was to be shown in distant countries to demonstrate how Americans in a small town lived. Local people and places were used and the town was quiet excited to be so honored. The film still exists and is still interesting to see.

The war finally ended. After terrible combat and the loss of many lives the Allies broke the back of Hitler’s Germany and on May 8, 1945, V-E Day (Victory Europe) was proclaimed. Such joy and celebration were rarely seen as took place in Madison on that day and three months later on V-J Day (Victory Japan) another took place. After over three and one half terrible years, the war was over. The boys would come home and those that would never come home had contributed to victory over a terrible foe. Future years would bring great changes to Madison but for now winning was enough.

MJCPL: Newspapers on microfilm
Madison Courier, May 26, 2007, Interview with Veterans
MJCPL: The Town
MJCPL: World War II by Dave Smith