While millions of Americans joined the military to fight the enemy abroad and tens of millions stayed home and found other ways to help the cause, Oregonians also shared a bond of sacrifice during WW II. Tens of thousands of people were arriving from all over the U.S. seeking work. In Portland, ship building yards, manufacturers of airplane parts and other weapons of war were hiring. In Oregon the State Guard, victory gardens, blackouts, air raid warnings and rationing became commonplace.
In reaction to the possibility of a Japanese invasion, the State Guard now performed many of the duties formerly done by the military prior to WWII. If invaded, the Sunset Highway (Hwy. 26) and Hwy. 38 near Elkton were mined to be destroyed before the enemy used them. The Guard patrolled the coastline to watch for possible invasion and ensured blackout compliance rules.
Oregon was now considered a war zone after the Pearl Harbor attack. Residents of coastal communities and elsewhere were required to have nightly blackouts. Blackout curtains covered windows in residential homes and businesses. Vehicle headlights were partially painted over. Volunteers became spotters along the coastline by learning to identify the make and type of airplanes. But by late-1942, most Oregonians began to feel less concerned about a large-scale Japanese attack. Civilian protection services and air raid warning systems grew rapidly as the enemy’s warring capability appeared diminished.
Protecting the homeland now included ways to help the war effort. Scrap metal was collected and rationing was declared by rationing tires, gasoline, meat, sugar and clothing.
Federal expenditures in Oregon expanded greatly. Training facilities were built in Corvallis and south of Bend. Spending money for facilities, construction salaries and assembling large numbers of personnel meant workers spent money on food, housing, clothing and other services. Other federal facilities were built in Hermiston (Umatilla Army Depot), airfields at Portland, Astoria, Newport, North Bend and Floras Lake. Navy stations were built at Tongue Point near Astoria and the Tillamook Naval Air Station. The Klamath Falls airport became Naval Air Station Klamath Falls.
Electricity from Bonneville Dam was used to make aluminum used in making airplanes at the Boeing plants in Seattle. Pendleton Army Air Field housed the famous 17th Bombardment Group (known now as the Doolittle Raiders) and the 555th Smoke Jumper unit.
Oregon was home to some of the largest shipyards of WWII. The Kaiser shipyards were some of the biggest and bragged that they could launch a liberty ship a day out of the Kaiser shipyards. Henry J. Kaiser also determined that if he could have healthcare and childcare on the worksite that he could maximize his worker’s performance. Kaiser Permanente was created because of the need for healthcare at the Kaiser Shipyard. The 85 shipyards in Portland would employ over 150,000 workers turning out “Baby Flattops” and “Liberty Ships.”
This need for employees created a surge of migration. Nearly 194,000 people moved into Oregon during WWII and for the first time Oregon’s African-American population grew almost 10-fold. Vanport, a housing project built by Kaiser, would become Oregon’s second largest city until a flood destroyed it in 1948.
The Oregon Homefront