Thursday, June 6, 2024

A Helmet for Every Job

Much has been written about air raid wardens and their role in ensuring blackout mandates were adhered to. However, the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) was significantly more.

With the realization that some sort of civilian defense similar to that in the UK was needed to coordinate state and federal measures to protect US citizens, President Roosevelt instituted the OCD in May 1941, more than six months prior to America’s entry into the war.

Headed initially by New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia, the OCD was comprised of four divisions: Federal-State Cooperation, Protection Services, Protective Property, and Industrial Protection. Nine regional offices, each with a paid director coordinated the efforts of state directors, county and city directors and volunteer block leaders. A total of twenty-three branches (each with its own helmet insignia) included staff, bomb reconnaissance, air raid wardens, auxiliary police, auxiliary fireman, fire watchers, demolition and clearance, road repair, rescue, decontamination, medical, nurses’ aides, drivers, messengers, emergency food and housing, utility repair, instructors, Christian chaplains, Jewish chaplains, forest firefighters, civil air patrol, civilian defense auxiliary group, and civilian evacuation service.

In addition to helmets, armbands with each insignia were issued to volunteers. A 38-page handbook,
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The United States Citizens Defense Corps, was published which explained the duties and responsibilities of the various positions. Qualifications for membership required “enrollment, physical and mental aptitude, recognition of obligation to study duties, take required training course, and subsequently attend periodical group practice.”

The manual went on to indicate who should join: “All able-bodied, responsible persons in the community – men and women, housewives, laborers, business and professional people – for the mutual protection of all. Boys and girls, and elderly people too, have work to do. The program is broad; the tasks are many; the time is now!”

In less than a year, more than five million volunteers made up 8,459 local civilian defense councils across the nation, mostly in cities and large metropolitan areas. By 1943, the organization had 14,000 local defense councils and more than eleven million volunteers. The federal Agriculture Extension Service helped develop a similar system for rural areas that included neighborhood leaders.

The American Legion worked in collaboration with the OCD to fill emergency-response gaps and help lead protection programs. National Commander Lynn Stambaugh offered Legion posts as training facilities for plane spotters and air-raid wardens. A short time later, the American Legion Citizens Defense Corps Training Program was established, and a 72-page textbook was created. Nearly 400,000 Legionnaires became wardens themselves.

Eleanor Roosevelt saw a need to expand the reach of the OCD to include public health and welfare, and increase citizens’ participation, however, two sources indicate that he felt that was “sissy stuff,” so he decided to hire the First Lady as assistant director. According to her papers and diaries, she was skeptical about taking a government position because she thought being the president’s wife would attract criticism to the OCD. She began working in September, 1941.

Unfortunately, her concerns proved to be real when her involvement became controversial. Accusations of frivolous spending and favoritism in appointments came to a head in early 1942, and she resigned her position in February.

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OCD leadership changed four more times during the war. LaGuardia was replaced by Harvard Law School dean James Landis who had formerly served as a member of the Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as well as being chairman of the SEC. He reorganized the agency, recruited new personnel and transferred some departments to other government agencies. When there had been no air raids or threats by 1943, Landis resigned and suggested that the OCD be abolished.

Roosevelt didn’t agree and appointed Deputy Director John Martin as acting director. After he resigned in 1944, Lt. General William Haskell took over and remained in the position until the organization was terminated by executive order on June 4, 1945. The OCD officially shut down on June 30, 1945.


The Widow & The War Correspondent

Are a new life and new love possible in a country devastated by war?

Barely married before she’s widowed after Pearl Harbor three years ago, journalist Cora Strealer travels to England where she’s assigned to work with United Press’s top reporter who thinks the last place for a woman is on the front lines. Can she change his opinion before D-Day? Or will she have to choose her job over her heart?

A sought-after journalist, Van Toppel deserves his pick of assignments, which is why he can’t determine the bureau chief’s motive for saddling him with a cub reporter. Unfortunately, the beautiful rookie is no puff piece. Can he get her off his beat without making headlines…or losing his heart?

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Linda Shenton Matchett writes happily-ever-after historical Christian fiction about second chances and women who overcome life’s challenges to be better versions of themselves.

Whether you choose her books set in the Old West or across the globe during WWII, you will be immersed in the past through rich detail. Follow the journeys of relatable characters whose faith is sorely tested, yet in the end, emerge triumphant. Be encouraged in your own faith-walk through stories of history and hope.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. This was very interesting, and the number of people who got involved in community activities is amazing!