During World War II, the country needed citizen support at home and abroad for all that needed to be done to fight a war. Tucson, Arizona, was just one of a multitude of communities that stepped forward to do their part.
Men enlisted in major numbers, leaving many jobs unfilled. This paved the way for women to enter into the workforce in great numbers. Factories needed help building everything from bombs to airplanes, trucks and automobiles.
In Tucson, the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation had jobs open for all who could be trained to work on bombers. The Vultee plant in Tucson was in charge of modification of the airplanes—some bombers required changes for flying in different climates; all bombers needed their offense and defense systems strengthened and brought up to date.
Men left farming jobs open, too. Women stepped in to keep up with growing everything from fruits, vegetables, and grains to cotton. Cotton was vital for making uniforms, tents, and parachutes. In addition to extra people working in at the farms, volunteers from the surrounding area arrived to pick the cotton in the fields.
Community Life Changes
Communities also suffered from the changes. The government stressed conservation of food, encouraged more home gardening, and asked that citizens collect and return to the government scrap metal, nylon, and fats and grease. (Fats and grease could be converted into glycerin for making explosives.)
As women took jobs, other women opened day care centers for their children. Local groups all over the country also sold war bonds to raise money for the cause.
It was a worrisome time. Loved ones were leaving for destinations unknown, with families fearing they might not come back. The war no longer seemed faraway. Those at home knew that keeping up morale would help townspeople as well as those serving overseas.
Arizonans Pitched In
In the 1940s, Arizona’s population was about 30 percent Hispanic. Despite many of them already being U.S. citizens, these families faced discrimination in school and in some public places. (See Mendez v. Westminster.) But the men were being drafted, and those at home put insults behind them and volunteered to do their part to help the country that was their home.
In Tucson, Arizona, a group calling themselves the Association of Hispanic Mothers and Wives (also called Spanish-American Mothers and Wives) organized in 1944 to support the war effort. Their newsletter, Chatter (saved by the Arizona Historical Society), was created to provide news for those at home about the men and women serving overseas. They also provided information that would have been of interest to the soldiers.
The newsletter was published every second and fourth Sunday. The first issue was on Father’s Day 1944: “We the Spanish-American Mothers and Wives Association, humbly dedicate this, our first issue of CHATTER. To the valiant Fathers who are fighting to preserve our democracy.”
Revenue from the paper was added to a fund to create recreation center for Spanish-American soldiers from Tucson.
News for the Families
The newsletter brought information on the Tucson soldiers overseas, including those due home on furlough. Promotions and recognitions are listed, and so are those “wounded in action” and “missing in action.” From Chatter, it is clear that many women from Tucson also signed up. Under Enlistments, we read of Pvt. Esther Dorame and Victoria Lopez and Angel Flores are all mentioned for signing up for the Women’s Army Corps.
The Robles family of Tucson would have loved this report: “A brother and sister reunion occurred recently in the southwest Pacific area—Pfc. Lucy Robles and Pvt. Salvador Robles of Tucson, after the landing of the first WAC group to be assigned to the sector.” The meeting was arranged by the Red Cross. A third brother was also fighting in the area but could not be present for the get-together.
In the newsletter of June 25, 1944, it was reported that PFC Abraham Mendoza “is now in Iran with the railway shop battalion, Abe sent us a picture of him sitting on a camel—he says he still prefers riding down Myers St. in an old broken down jalopy with a bottle of tequila by his side.”
News for the Soldiers as Well
Whether there was a formal way of sending newsletters to hometown men and women overseas, or whether families themselves sent the newsletters on, the news coverage makes it clear that those serving were among the intended readers.
In one of the early issues there is a special note to Staff Sergeant William Rivera “somewhere in New Guinea:” “Your boy was two years old July 22, and he is quite a young man. Congratulations, and may you soon come back to him.”
There was also encouragement for voting by those overseas. Chatter mentioned that of the 600 military ballots mailed out by the county recorder, 128 had been returned, 90 from the camps in the U.S. and 38 from foreign points. “COME ON KIDS, KEEP ‘EM COMING!”
And of course, everyone wondered about football. Would there be college games in 1944? Chatter reporters contacted the Director of Athletics at the University of Arizona. He verified that for 1944 there were not expected to be any college athletics.
The newsletter covered town news ranging from a fire at the Pekin Café to landscaping improvements around town. They also notified soldiers that when they were home, there would be free swimming for them at a community pool on Monday and Tuesday. Swimming access for “colored” soldiers would be at a different location (a reminder to readers today that it was the Jim Crow era).
Pop Culture from Home
Perhaps to make those stationed overseas feel less homesick, the newsletter concluded with a page or two dedicated to entertainment. Lists of the top hit parade songs for recent weeks as well as a “jokes” section were included in each newsletter. There was light poetry:
“The saddest words of tongue or pen,
Perhaps may be “It might have been,
But sweetest words we know, by heck
Are simply these: ‘Enclosed find check.’”
And this from American actress Benay Venuta: “Hitler thought he was a man of steel but we proved he was just scrap iron.”
D-Day in Tucson
According to Chatter, Tucson took the news of the long-awaited invasion of Normandy “sitting down” and with no display of hysteria or outward excitement. Chatter reported on the happenings. The down town district was deserted as the first news come over the radio, and no whistles or sirens were sounded.
Citizens joined the nation-wide prayer for the fighting men. Most churches held services. Special lunch hour prayers were held at Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Plant and a special bond booth set up sold more than $3000 worth that morning.
People Come Together
In times of national emergency, Americans can generally trust that people of all backgrounds will come together. The Hispanic Women of Tucson displayed this perfectly during World War II.
If you know of people who lived in Tucson during this era and have information to add, please get in touch: [email protected]
To read about Latina women who took jobs during World War II, click here.