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World War II Richmond, Virginia

World War II Richmond, Virginia

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World War II Richmond, Virginia

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Oct 15, 2013


The effects of the war raging across Europe were visible in Richmond as early as 1939, and Richmonders are always ready to fight for their cause. In that year, the city saw its first parking meters on the streets and began to collect aluminum scrap for use in war industries. In 1940, pursuant to the new draft law, Richmond's sons between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five registered for the draft. While bomb shelters were put up all over the town, dances were held to maintain local morale. Even as local German families faced discrimination, Richmonders strived for a sense of unity and solidarity. Author and historian Walter Griggs Jr. revives this conflicted spirit, memorializing the sorrow and celebrating the triumphs of a resilient southern city through world war.
Oct 15, 2013

Über den Autor

Dr. Walter Griggs Jr. is a law professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He holds an MA and JD from the University of Richmond and PhD from William and Mary. He has written numerous articles and books on a variety of historical subjects and was awarded the Jefferson Davis Medal for his work.

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World War II Richmond, Virginia - Walter S. Griggs Jr.



World War II was the defining event in the lives of those who lived through the days when the lights went out all over the world. Although we still remember the great battles and leaders, we have largely forgotten the sacrifices of those who fought the war on the homefront. But victory could not have been achieved without the contributions of the men and women who stayed at home and collected junk, stepped on tin cans, wore cuff-less pants, built airplanes and tanks, stood on buildings watching for enemy planes and felt the incomprehensible loss of loved ones. This book is my effort to record many of the important daily events of the Richmonders who lived through those days so that their contributions to the war effort will not be forgotten.

On a personal note, I was born a year before Pearl Harbor and have few memories of the war. However, when I started reading the old newspapers, I came to understand how much I owe to my parents, Dorothy and Walter Griggs. They endured years filled with anxiety but never really told me about their own experiences. I am also grateful to my brother, Bob, who was born after the war but provided me with many helpful insights. During and after the war, my grandparents Martin and Maggie Feitig lived with us. Long after the war, I saw my grandfather resharpen his own razor blades and make jars of apple sauce last longer by putting water into the jar. After doing the research for this book, I understand his somewhat bizarre behavior. What he learned to do to save blades and food became a part of his life.

I also want to express my gratitude to the following people, libraries and archives: the Richmond Public Library, St. John’s United Church of Christ and the reference archivists at the Library of Virginia and Tom Silvestri and Heather Moon of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Of special note is the help of David Grabarek of the Library of Virginia, who taught me how to use a computer mouse to hover over a computer icon.

My Ginter Park Elementary School Class of 1953 shared many of their childhood memories and memorabilia with me. I would like to express my appreciation to all of my classmates, especially Ruth Decker Caudill, Clint Rose, Carolyn Whitworth Brittain, Judith Reynolds Johnson and Jean Bear.

Several people gave me the benefits of their own research and memories, including Susan Guckenberg, Sanford Williamson and Joan Beck Willis. I want to thank Betty Hach Lohmann for letting me use the prayer she prayed at Highland Park Elementary School on D-Day. I also want to express my appreciation to Carolyn Whitworth Brittain and Judith Reynolds Johnson for allowing me to use material from their World War II collections. I have greatly benefited from the encouragement and support of a number of people, including Jill Kramer, Linda Pontius, Susan Griggs, Dr. Jerome Becker, Dr. Ann Williams, Dr. Marianne Miller and Dr. Glenn Gilbreath.

On issues of race, I have spent many hours talking with my academic colleague Dr. Annie Stith-Willis. Her insights have been invaluable to me, as has her friendship. Also very helpful were conversations with my former student Jay C Paul, who taught me a lot about submarine warfare.

At The History Press, I want to thank Banks Smithers, who provided invaluable assistance in helping me prepare this book for publication; Katie Parry, who has made writing a pleasure by arranging so many book signings; Meredith Riddick, who does a great job in sending books to various outlets; and Jamie Muehl, who prepared the manuscript for publication.

As always, my wife, Frances, spent hours trying to make this book readable by checking and editing every word that I wrote. If Rosy the Riveter got us through the war, Frances the Proofer got me through this book. Thank you, Frances!

Finally, I want to thank my daughter, Cara, who, as a reference archivist, helped me locate much material and, as a photographer, did the editing of all of the images and prepared them for publication. Thank you, Cara!

Walter S. Griggs Jr.

VJ DAY 2013



There’s a long, long trail a-winding

Into the land of my dreams;

Where the nightingales are singing

And a white moon beams.

There’s a long, long night of waiting

Until my dreams all come true;

Till the day when I’ll be going down

That long, long trail with you.

—Stoddard King and Alonzo Elliott

The Carillon in Byrd Park can be seen from many locations in Richmond. This magnificent 240-foot-tall singing tower is a tribute to those Virginians who died over there in the Great War. A bell tower was selected to honor the war dead and to call attention to the fact that when the war ended in Europe in November 1918, church bells rang in celebration.

At its dedication in 1932, more than fifteen thousand people stood in the shadow of the Carillon and heard a dedicatory prayer that expressed the hope that the bells may ring out the thousand wars of old and ring in the thousand years of peace. Senator Alban W. Barkley of Kentucky observed, It is a beautiful thing you have done here to erect a memorial in perpetual honor of the undying fame of those who died in the war. As part of the ceremony, the bells of the Carillon rang out Lead, Kindly Light, Onward, Christian Soldiers, There’s a Long, Long Trail A-winding and America. Those people who were at the dedication had no idea that the peace they were celebrating was about to end in a modern-day Armageddon.

The Carillon in Byrd Park that was dedicated to the Virginians who died in World War I. Photograph by Walter Griggs.

Two months after the dedication of this tower of peace in Richmond, Virginia, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Richmonders who read the Richmond News Leader of January 30, 1933, were greeted by a front-page picture of Hitler that, by any standards, showed him as evil personified. The lead paragraph stated, Adolf Hitler, picturesque leader of the German Fascists, was made Chancellor of Germany. An editorial in the same paper commented, Hitler says that he will govern constitutionally, and from today’s proclamations, his party has dropped its anti-Semitic slurs. The world would soon discover that it could not trust Adolf Hitler.

In rapid succession, Hitler abolished trade unions, dismantled all political parties, renewed his anti-Semitic agenda and led Germany out of the League of Nations. Richmonders heard about the night of the Long Knives, which was a violent, bloody purge of those opposed to Hitler. With his opponents eliminated, Hitler became president of Germany, took the title of Führer and started to implement his program of conquest and extermination of the Jewish people.

Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 in his effort to unite all German-speaking people. The rationale was that there were six million Germans living in Austria, and they should be part of Germany. This forced annexation, known as the Anschluss, was the theme of the popular musical The Sound of Music. Although not known at the time, this was the beginning of the end of peace in Europe.

On September 30, 1938, European leaders signed the Treaty of Munich, and Hitler was given the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, which, like Austria, had a large German population. Hitler assured the conferees at the Munich Conference that this was the end of his land claims in Europe. Thus, Czech freedom was sacrificed for the promise of Adolf Hitler seeking no more land for Germany. Hitler believed that people would believe a big lie more than a small lie. His promise was a big lie—and for a time, people believed him.

Following his meeting with Hitler at Munich, Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of Great Britain, came home proclaiming to the cheering British people that he had achieved peace in our time. The world would soon learn that appeasement was not a viable option, although it was the diplomatic strategy of Neville Chamberlain. This painful lesson from Munich has continued to influence foreign policy to the present day.

Having achieved his goals at Munich, Hitler started his persecution of the Jews. On the nights of the November 9 and 10, 1938, the German authorities stood aside as the Nazis launched their most destructive campaign against the Jews to date. Over one thousand synagogues were burned, along with other property owned by Jews. The streets were filled with broken glass from the vandalism of Jewish synagogues, shops, stores and homes. Because of all of the broken glass in the streets, this attack on the Jews is known as Kristallnacht, or the night of the broken glass. The Jews of Europe were soon rounded up like cattle and shipped to concentration camps in boxcars from which millions did not return. Most Germans did not try to save their former friends and neighbors. Martin Niemöller summed up the lack of concern by writing:

Cattle car like those used to transport Jews to various death camps. It is on display in front of the Virginia Holocaust Museum. Photograph by Walter Griggs.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As the Jews were being rounded up, Adolf Hitler’s legions continued to goose-step across Europe. In March 1939, while the world watched and did nothing, Hitler’s armies seized what remained of Czechoslovakia. Following the seizure, England and France promised to defend Poland from the scourge of the Nazi Cross. Appeasement was no longer going to be the policy. In Richmond, the Carillon still stood as a beacon of peace, but its bells were rarely rung. In Europe, however, more and more people were singing a song:

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,

Über alles in der Welt.

And there was a new greeting in Germany and the conquered nations: Heil Hitler!



We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,

Have you any dirty washing, mother dear?

We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line.

’Cause the washing day is here.

—Jimmy Kennedy

Across Europe, world-changing events came in rapid succession. In late August 1939, Russia and Germany signed a nonaggression pact. Now assured that his eastern front was secure, Hitler prepared to invade Poland. Presumably for an unannounced port visit, the World War I German battleship Schleswig-Holstein arrived off the coast of Danzig, Poland. Hitler then faked an attack on a German outpost to make it seem as though the Poles were attacking the Germans so the Germans could justify an invasion. Then the 280mm main guns of the battleship unleashed their screaming salvos on the Poles. And the sky over Poland was filled with German aircraft, including Stukas, Messerschmitts and Heinkels, while German soldiers and powerful Panzer tanks streamed across the Polish border. To conquer Poland, Hitler employed the blitzkrieg—a rapid advance by a powerful force against an unsuspecting nation.

No longer willing to appease a tyrant, Neville Chamberlain spoke from the cabinet room at Number 10 Downing Street in London and announced that a state of war existed with Germany; there would be no peace in our time as promised. France joined in the declaration of war—appeasement was now replaced by tanks, artillery, soldiers, airplanes and ships. Hitler’s insatiable appetite to gobble up other nations would now be challenged. Soon British troops were heard singing, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, a popular song from World War I, as they marched off to France to fight for king and country.

Richmonders might not have realized it at the time, but the war in Europe would soon touch, change and then engulf them. The Richmond Times-Dispatch of September 1, 1939, proclaimed in banner headline, Four Polish Cities Bombed, Fighting in Danzig Reported. One columnist fumed, A lone megalomaniac [Hitler] has elected to plunge Europe into war. Unwilling to negotiate, except on his own terms, he determined that all who stand in his way shall be ruthlessly crushed. The German people were reportedly stunned by the invasion and the start of what would become World War II.

Many political leaders were hopefully suggesting—and many Richmonders were in agreement—that the United States should stay out of the war. But one Richmond columnist wrote, We can’t keep out of it; we’re sure to get into it sooner or later. However, President Roosevelt apparently was of the same mind as many Richmonders when he affirmed that the United States should stay out of the war…unless it [the United States] is clearly in imminent danger of attack. But subsequent events would make this an impossible objective. By the end of September 1939, Poland had been conquered, and the Nazi flag was seen flying from its buildings while its Jewish population was being exterminated.

Following Hitler’s conquest of

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