The impact of World War II on Missourians can be seen in the State Historical Society of Missouri's collections of newspapers, letters, diaries, records, photographs, and memoirs written during or about wartime military service. The collections also offer materials pertaining to civilian life during wartime and information on veterans' organizations. These records help us to understand the effects the war had on Missourians fighting overseas as well as those providing strength on the home front.
On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, George Allison Whiteman, an Army Air Corps second lieutenant originally from Pettis County, Missouri, ran to his P-40B Warhawk at Bellows Air Force Station in Waimanalo, Hawaii, as the island came under attack from enemy aircraft. Whiteman’s cockpit was hit by gunfire just moments after takeoff, and his plane crashed and burned at the edge of the runway. He was one of the first Americans killed in battle in World War II.
After that morning attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was thrust into the Second World War, which ultimately involved more than 100 million people from 30 different countries throughout the world. Missourians fought on nearly every front of the war, with around 450,000 Missouri residents serving in the military. About 300,000 of these were draftees, with the rest being volunteers and National Guardsmen. Some Missouri women volunteered as well, serving in organizations such as the Navy WAVES and the Women’s Army Corps. A number of Missourians rose in the ranks to become generals and admirals, including General Omar Bradley, who led the Twelfth Army Group, the largest American army field command in history. And late in the war, in 1945, Harry S. Truman became the first Missourian to be president of the United States, leading the country through the end of the war and making the fateful decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.
On the home front, the war profoundly impacted Missourians’ lives. Rationing, scrap drives, and air-raid drills were a part of everyday life, and Missourians spent over $3 billion dollars on war bonds. They grew victory gardens and volunteered for the Red Cross; most of all, they waited anxiously for their friends and family overseas to come home. As it did throughout the country, the war served as an economic stimulus for Missouri, providing enough jobs in military production to eventually create a labor shortage. Women and teenagers entered the workforce in large numbers, and farmers were encouraged to modify their crop production to accommodate war needs. Facilities in Missouri were constructed or repurposed for war needs as well; O’Reilly General Hospital in Springfield housed large numbers of injured soldiers; Camps Clark, Crowder, Weingarten, and Fort Leonard Wood all housed prisoners of war; and Crowder and Fort Leonard Wood provided military training. By the end of the war, over 8,000 Missourians had lost their lives, and countless more had been wounded.