Permanent Exhibits

To War and To Work

In 1941, war had been raging in Europe for over two years. After the December 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, both Japan and Germany officially declared war on the United States of America, bringing us into World War II and changing Northwest Arkansas as swiftly as the rest of the country.

Young men enlisted or were drafted into military service, while those left on the home front faced sudden and drastic changes in their lives. Goods like meat, sugar, and gasoline were rationed. Speed limits were lowered to conserve fuel. Manufacture of consumer goods like cars and refrigerators was displaced by production of guns and ammunition, tanks and airplanes. People everywhere paid higher taxes and bought war bonds to fund the war. Schoolchildren collected scrap metal, rubber, and grease—anything any material needed for war production. Women who stayed home had to do everything. They took the roles of men in agriculture and business, they rolled bandages, sewed and knitted for soldiers, canned food for home use, and made over clothing.

The effort to arm America and her allies fueled a huge industrial boom to produce war materiel. Every man and woman who wanted a job had one, effectively ending the deprivations of the Great Depression.

Ozarkers mobilized with the rest of America, leaving the area to go to war or to work. Men not called to military service found better-paying jobs in war industries elsewhere. Jobs vacated by men joining the military filled rapidly with millions of women, many of them working outside the home for the first time. Women took civil service jobs, got medical training, built armaments, performed non-combat roles in the military to free up men for fighting overseas. Very few of these roles, however, could be performed in Northwest Arkansas. People left the area in droves.

Many were leaving the hills for the first time, and some would never return. Sometimes, greater opportunity kept them where the war effort had taken them. Others returned, but they were changed people, bringing home new ideas and ambitions from their experiences outside the Ozarks.

World War II ended America’s isolationism, thrusting her into a leadership role in global affairs. This shift in national focus meant that local people in the military could find themselves serving nearly anywhere in the world. Korea, Viet Nam, and Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait were the largest U.S. deployments, but Ozarkers have served in the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Haiti, Panama, Somalia, and Bosnia, too. In addition to military facilities around the globe, service people are stationed anywhere the United States maintains an embassy. Military service has traditionally been a double-edged sword for Ozark natives. They had to leave home to be able to send money back to those left behind. They were often away for years, but they were accumulating skills and experiences that would serve them for a lifetime. Northwest Arkansas continues to profit from the infusion of new ideas and new energy brought back from time away in military service.

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