Mobilized for War

Communities on the Eastern Shore saw the construction of new munitions plants in places like Elkton, Maryland, and the DuPont plant in Seaford, Delaware. This construction fueled the demand for migrant workers, who rented rooms from local families. The rise of these defense industries allowed communities to contribute to the national war effort, but not without consequence. Ammunition factories, especially, brought the threat of attention and possible attack from the enemy. After a defense plant began operating in their town, Rene Coxon and Charlotte Slagle volunteered to become airplane spotters, phoning in to describe the location and movement of enemy aircraft. Secrecy was key to protecting Americans from attack by U-Boat, as Eddie Cook recalls hearing the popular phrase “loose lips sink ships” circulate at his local church.

Elkton Munitions Plant, Wartime Work, and Rooms for Rent—Mary Jane Rambo

We had a local fireworks company right outside of town that became the manufacturer of most of the ammunition that was used in the Pacific during the war.

I went to business school for a semester—actually, the war was in progress when I graduated—and then they closed the college for two weeks for vacation. Instead of going back to school, I got a job at what was known then as the War Manpower Commission or the Employment Service. And it was designed to move people to areas where the help was needed to build ammunition or whatever else needed to be done. In doing so, they sent out people who recruited into Virginia, West Virginia primarily, North Carolina, some in Pennsylvania and some up in New York. They brought people in here by busloads to work in the munitions factory.

All of the residents in a radius of like fifty miles were asked if they could spare a room to provide room for these workers. My mother did. We lived in a nice home about three blocks from here. She had many different roomers, but it was fun because they were nice people. We had one episode where a woman came up from West Virginia with her son who happened to be the same age as my brother who was in high school. They became buddies so he slept with my brother, and Mrs. Davis had her own room. It wasn’t too long until my mother was inviting them to have dinner with us, and that’s how they became part of our family. But we had several people from the South who lived with us during the war.

DuPont Plant—Elaine Figgs

People worked here [Dupont Plant] from Salisbury, Georgetown, Easton. They all came because the money, for one thing, was more than they could make at any other job. People came from all areas around here to work there: Bridgeville, Laurel, you name it. They were the first nylon plant. I don’t understand the working there, but there were a lot of jobs that were available. And they had lots of machines, and they made the nylon. And some of the nylon was used for parachutes.

Women Coming to Seaford to Work—Jennings Spicer

What came here during the war were a lot of women from around the areas. They worked all shifts. Women in industry. They had brown slacks, light brown blouse, that’s what they all wore. Men could wear what they wanted to wear, but the women didn’t [unintelligible]. And a lot of people that lived in Cambridge, Georgetown, Milford, Dover, even Salisbury would come up here and buy a house and come up with the family or rent a room. Most of them, a lot of people, rented rooms. They just—there weren’t any homes here. If you know where Morton Farms is out here, if you turn and go back over to the second stoplight, stop sign, turn right, you go down, turn left, all those homes are built by DuPont. Every one of them. DuPont built them because they had no place for their management. They all got that. Wage [unintelligible] people, they had to get their own wherever.

Volunteering for Airplane Spotting—Rene Coxon

[When the war started], I lived in there for four years. From ’41 until ’45. And that’s when our defense plant came to do the ammunition for war effort and some of us volunteered too. I happened to be one that volunteered for spotting airplanes. You all don’t know it but we didn’t have radar, right? So we spotted airplanes. We went to school, classes, and then I spotted airplanes under the big tree right at the end here. Our high school was right over here where your building is, your new building. On Washington Avenue was our high school. So, you learn what your enemy’s airplanes were, you picked up the phone when you saw one, you described it, which direction it was going, and somebody else picked it up on the other line. We only lived, maybe, is it two hours from Washington, to drive. But not according to how the crow flies, therefore, we were fairly close to Washington. And of course you had radar then, but not around like that.

Parental/Social Discussions on the War—Eddie Cook

I heard my mother [talk about the war] because when she went to church, and that was a big gathering back in those days, that’s where they went to get their news. ‘Course there was other farm families who had boys that looked older than us that was in the service. And they would talk, and she would repeat to us what so-and-so—, where the son was stationed and how secret this is. And we worried because they never knew, you know, back then. “Loose lips sink ships,” and they lived by that rule. And rightly so, because you never knew who was listening. You’ve heard all about the German subs coming up on the coast and what happened to them.