The National Archives at Seattle

A World in Flames

In size, geographic scope, and sheer destructiveness, World War II dwarfs all other conflicts in human history. When it was over, hundreds of cities lay in ruin, and millions of people were injured, displaced, or impoverished. Fifty million people were dead. Although the war began in September 1939, the United States did not enter it until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. As late as 1936, the Japanese Imperial Navy was visiting Puget Sound but by 1942 Japanese Americans had been removed from the West Coast and interred in relocation camps.

Few elements of American society were left untouched by the war effort. Airbases and training centers were established or expanded in the Pacific Northwest to prepare soldiers, sailors, and airmen for shipment overseas. Electricity produced by the Columbia River dams and marketed by Bonneville Power Administration fueled the aluminum, shipbuilding, and airplane manufacturing industries providing increased opportunities for women and minorities to find employment in occupations that had previously been closed to them. Native Americans contributed to the war effort by fighting overseas and working in war industries but also continued many of their traditional pursuits such as fishing off the Washington Coast.

Major changes were taking place in Eastern Washington with the construction of the Hanford Engineering Works where the Federal government was developing the atomic bomb in secret. This development would lead to the end of the war with Japan in 1945 and usher in the Cold War era.

Captain of the Yard Central Subject Files, 1925-1961; Puget Sound Navy Yard; Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments (RG 181)

During the period between the two World Wars, visits between the Japanese and the United States navies were common. Here officers and midshipmen assigned to the Japanese Naval Training Squadron arrive at the Puget Sound Naval Yard in July 1936, greeted by a contingent of U.S. Naval officers. Six years later, these navies would be engaging each other under very different circumstances.

Commandant's Office Central Subject Files, 1925-1954; 13th Naval District; Records of Naval District and Shore Establishments (RG 181)

Seattle (WA) was one of the west coast ports used to transport men and material to the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Here soldiers are loading onto a Navy LST at the Seattle Port of Embarkation. (February 3, 1945)

Commandant's Central Subject Files, 1936-1961; Puget Sound Navy Yard; Records of Naval District and Shore Establishments (RG 181)

By 1942, women had been integrated into the workforce at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Here Miss Margaret Christensen is making a weld on the keel of BDE 40 under the watchful eyes of Fire Warden Mrs. Ruth Hefter. The private shipyards along the Columbia River in Oregon also made heavy use of "Rosie the Riveters".

Wartime Unit Histories, 1941-1945; 13th Coast Guard District; Records of the United States Coast Guard (RG 26)

The U.S. Coast Guard Women's Auxiliary (SPARs) were created to help fill some of the duties left uncovered as many men serving in the Coast Guard were sent overseas. Although primarily used for administrative purposes, the women underwent training and drills that by mid-1944 included six hours of small arms instruction. Here the women participate in a gas mask drill at the SPAR training facility at Port Angeles, Washington. (1943)

Historic Photo: Chemawa Indian School; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75)

Historic Photo: Chemawa Indian School; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75)

During the war years at Chemawa Indian School (OR), students continued to learn industrial arts while participating in activities designed to strengthen their cultural heritage. Efforts were made to create an aura of normalcy for the students during the wartime period. (ca. 1943)

Decimal Correspondence File, 1926-1950; Taholah Indian Agency; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75)

As World War II raged around the world, some activities on the home front remained the same. Here, Taholah fishermen pull nets onto the beach at La Push, Washington. (ca. 1945)

Scrapbooks, ca. 1945-1948; Seattle Regional Office; Records of the War Assets Administration (RG 270)

Discharged from the U.S. Navy Seebees just three weeks earlier, Joseph Hickey drives his newly purchased 2-1/2-ton cargo truck away from a surplus property sale held in February 1946. Hickey's was the first automotive purchase and here he is congratulated by Lt. Cmdr. Walter Rierson, Commanding Officer of the Navy Materials Redistribution Center in Tacoma (WA). Many well known area businesses got their post-war starts in this manner.

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