| Home | Contents | | Alabama and World War II |
[ADAH Logo] Alabama Moments in American History US/Ala flags
| Quick Summary | Details | Bibliography | Primary Sources | Suggested Activities | Time Line |

primary source gif
Alabama and World War II

1. Letter from Ernest Clarke, a Clarke County farmer, to Secretary of Agriculture Wickard, printed in an editorial in the Mobile Register, December 7, 1941. The editorial praised Clarke, head of a family of fourteen, who worked in the officers' mess at Brookley Field in an effort to supplement the meager income from the fifteen acres he had under cultivation, as the embodiment of "the spirit that made our nation what it is." In response to a letter from the Agriculture Secretary requesting that American farmers raise certain types of crops for the war effort, Clarke volunteered to donate some of his crops. Because tenant farmers rarely cleared more than about $75 profit annually, Clarke's generous gesture represented an enormous personal sacrifice.

Dear Sir:

I am glad to help my country to raise the foodstuffs for war. I's very glad to help raise food to feed the soldier boys. I give one acre oats, one acre peanuts, one acre hay, one sow hog, one acre corn, one acre potatoes.

Ernest Clarke

2. Feature article by Sidney Shallett about Staff Sergeant Henry Eugene Erwin, New York Times, June 17, 1945. Better known as "Red," Erwin joined the Army Air Forces in 1942. In 1945, he was the radio operator on a B-29 which flew bombing missions against the Japanese home islands. As his plane approached its target, a phosphorous bomb accidentally exploded inside the aircraft. Without hesitating, Erwin picked up the bomb whose sticky flames burn at about 1300 degrees Fahrenheit, stumbled through thick, acrid smoke, and tossed it out the co-pilot's window. Red Erwin's selfless and heroic action saved the plane and its crew of twelve. Fearing that Erwin might die, President Truman ordered that a Congressional Medal of Honor be taken immediately from a display case in Hawaii and rushed to Erwin's hospital bed on Iwo Jima. Sidney Shallett interviewed the badly burned, but recovering Erwin at Northington Hospital in Tuscaloosa. In Shallett's article, "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty," Erwin talks about how the war changed his way of thinking about other Americans.

The sergeant digressed a moment to talk about his friend, Sergeant Schnipper:

`He's a Jewish boy from Jamaica, N.Y. You know in Alabama I hadn't known many Jewish people. Not many Catholics, either. In the Army you learn something about people. When you get a buddy on your plane and eat and sleep together, and borrow each other's clothes, and fight together, you learn there's not much difference in religions. This Sergeant Schnipper is a really swell guy; he'd give me the shirt off his back and there's nothing I wouldn't do for him.

`I think the country's going to be better off for what our boys are learning about these things.

`Take Negroes. You know, down South here the people don't think so much of the Negro; they think he doesn't work. Well, when I saw what the Negro engineers did in getting the blacktop down on our field at Guam, I changed my mind about them.'

Report by Edouard Patte on a visit to a prisoner of war camp, Camp McClellan, Alabama, December 11, 1944. Patte inspected conditions in POW camps for the YMCA. Except for officers, healthy POWs had to work. In this report, Patte describes what the prisoners did at Camp McClellan for amusement and education in their spare time.

The country was covered with snow. I called the Post, and the Commander was kind enough to send an army car to bring me to his headquarters. . . . Since my last visit, four barracks were set aside as art-studios. . . . I ignored whether a would-be Picasso is among the POW's but I do know that you will find amidst them sincere artists who have found in painting, drawing and sculpturing the best outlet for their inner forces.

The University [of Alabama] with twenty-five teachers has a one thousand two hundred student enrollment who are taught every conceivable subject. Sport activities are mainly centered around football [Fussball, or soccer] and handball championship where sixty teams are entered during this winter season. Other activities like theater, movies, orchestra continue, as in the past, with great success.

The camp newspaper "Die Oase" [the "Oasis"] which was printed every week needs more paper to be continued on a weekly basis. . . . I am reluctant to pass an order to our warehouse, knowing that there is a shortage of paper in every American organization.

I had at the end of my stay at the Fort a most unusual experience in visiting the attractive little zoo, built by a POW who had been a circus attendant in Germany. After having been taken to the aviarium where beautiful birds of all colors and shapes—thirty eight different species—were kept, I was given for a few minutes a handful of snakes, half asleep, cold, coiled, black, silvery, gray, brown. I must confess my preference for handling other animals. . . . The POW entered a small enclosure, moved a few stones, awoke a beautiful fox and tried with much skill, poise and persuasion, to teach him to obey his voice. It lasted ten minutes, all of them packed with tense interest. First frightened, then sneaky, then calmed, then obedient, at last the captive animal tamed by a captive man learned the lesson; but as soon as the POW had disappeared it certainly forgot it! The circus-man had a smile—or was it a grin—when he said to me: `Sir, neither man nor animal can ever learn anything when being a captive!'