DAV Meets the Needs of World War II (Part 1)
The first class of the new National Service Officer Training Program at American University in Washington, D.C., in 1944. From the ten classes came the core of the DAV National Service Program, as well as the staff leadership.
Never before was our nation so challenged than during the historic days of the 1940s, and never before was DAV called upon by so many disabled veterans for service and advocacy to ensure our nation kept its promise to them. The 1940s marked a decade of wars, medical advancements, new technology and rapid change. And DAV responded with an innovative educational program to train and field the National Service Officers needed by those who served and sacrificed. It became a landmark accomplishment for DAV and an institution that continues to mold leaders today.
The United States in 1940 was a nation preparing for the war that had already engulfed Europe and the Far East. In Europe, Germany had overrun most of the western nations as Great Britain stood alone, pounded by the Blitz and watching its shores for impending invasion. In the Pacific, Japan had invaded China and Manchuria as it prepared for an expanding war to obtain the raw materials necessary for its existence.
Congress in 1940 enacted the Selective Service Act, the first peacetime draft in the nation’s history. Still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, more than eight million of the nation’s 132 million citizens were unemployed. The minimum wage was 43 cents an hour, and the average annual salary was $1,300. Slightly more than half the homes in the nation had indoor plumbing.
The following year, the last year of peace until 1945, Congress authorized the Lend-Lease Act which supplied Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, France and other Allied nations with vast amounts of war materials produced by U.S. industries in the run-up to war. At home, NBC launched regular commercial television broadcasting.
For the Disabled American Veterans of the World War (DAVWW), the tremendous increase in fundraising potential brought on by the 1941 introduction of the IdentoTag Program was well timed. The keychained miniature license plates for cars were a hit for donors who now were earning enough to purchase a car. When World War I Sgt. Laurence R. Melton was elected Commander at that year’s national convention, no one could foresee the series of world events that would leave him in office for the longest term in DAV history.
Before he settled into his new duties, Melton was called to active duty as an Army captain. Most of his time as National Commander would see him on active duty, eventually being promoted to major.
The seminal event of the decade, and perhaps the century, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. The United States responded with a declaration of war on Dec. 8, and three days later declared war against Germany and Italy—the so-called Axis powers.
Industries that had turned out consumer goods were converted to wartime production. All civilian automobile construction was cancelled as motor giants produced tanks, artillery, airplanes and other weapons of war. Men enlisted or waited to be drafted, and women left their homes to become the iron maidens of industry.
For the only time in the history of DAV the 1942 National Convention was canceled due to the lack of gasoline, hotel accommodations and transportation among other war-related problems.
The war initially focused on the Pacific as a strategy against Germany and Italy was discussed between the United States and Great Britain. Faced with the losses of the Philippines, Wake Island and other strategic bases in the South Pacific, it was the successes of the Doolittle Raid, the battles of Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal that lifted the nation’s spirits. In Europe, the U.S. 8th Air Force arrived in Great Britain to begin bombing missions against enemy targets in France as Germany invaded Russia and pushed toward Moscow. In November, U.S. and British troops landed in the French-held territories of Algeria and Morocco in North Africa to begin offensive operations against German and Italian forces.
At the front, the German Afrika Korps and supporting Italian troops in North Africa surrendered to Allied forces. In July 1943, Allied forces invaded Sicily resulting in 2,899 killed or missing, 6,471 wounded and 598 captured. After the bloody invasion Duce Benito Mussolini resigned. In September, as Allied forces were invading Salerno and Taranto, Italy signed an armistice, and later declared war on Germany. The Italian Campaign became a nightmare of modern warfare that did not end until May 1945, with 29,560 killed and missing, 82,180 wounded and 7,410 captured. No campaign in Western Europe cost infantry forces more lives lost and wounds suffered than Italy.
In the Pacific U. S. Marines invaded Tarawa in November 1943. The invasion resulted in 1,696 killed, including 687 officers and sailors in the sinking of the USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) off Makin Island. Among the dead was Dorie Miller, a cook who received the Navy Cross for his gallantry at Pearl Harbor. The Marines lost 1,009 killed and 2,101 wounded during the three-day battle of Tarawa, an assault on the 4,500-strong island garrison. The battle, later called a mistake by General Holland Smith in his autobiography, helped the Allies improve the techniques of amphibious landings, plan more carefully regarding tides and landing craft schedules and better overall coordination, which was put to great use in 1944 and 1945.
The U.S. Navy did not seek out the Japanese fleet for a decisive battle in 1943. Instead the Navy used aggressive submarine warfare to strangle supply lines to Japan. The strategy was so successful that oil shortages made any Japanese naval attack impossible.
In 1944, Americans began the battles for Monte Cassino and Anzio and captured Rome in Italy. The Normandy D-Day invasion and the push to the Rhine in France; Operation Market-Garden in Holland; the Hurtgen Forest in Germany; and the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Luxembourg were the largest and bloodiest battles in World War II—which cost the United States 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 captured or missing.
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