Sarah Beth Costello
February 17, 2009
December 7, 1941 was a cold winter day for Alamance County, N.C., residents.
A morning car accident, seemingly the worst in the region’s history, had the whole town in an uproar. Dozens arrived at the crash site to witness the tragic scene. It wasn’t too long after when more disastrous news was delivered: Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor.
It was a day that Alamance County would never forget. The unprecedented attacks were considered a tragedy to all and eventually led to a full-front world war.
The county was caught up with the craze and hysteria the coming war invoked. Editor emeritus, Don Bolden, of the Burlington Times-News has devoted much of his career to researching and preserving the history of World War II and it’s effects on Alamance County.
Bolden began the “Winter of Our Warriors” series in 1995 to commemorate and honor Alamance veterans. Bolden is responsible for the Alamance County War Memorial erected in Graham, N.C., and has received numerous awards.
Alamance Reads chairwoman, Margaret Blanchard, welcomed a medium-sized audience that mostly consisted of elderly war veterans – many had been featured in the “Winter of Our Warriors” series.
Bolden stood behind a podium, gazing out over the crowd through wire-rimmed glasses. Dressed in a black suit, his stature possessed the demeanor of an instructor or schoolteacher. In his hands he held a large book and began reading in a soft and methodic voice. His slight southern accent added to the moment and his words came to life as he began to describe Alamance County as it was almost 70 years ago.
A hush came over the crowd, and all eyes were on the speaker as he began to tell a story, one of tragedy, heartache and perseverance.
ALAMANCE COUNTY DURING THE 1940s
“We know that in the 1940s Alamance County was much like any other community in the south,” Bolden said as he prefaced his presentation, “small, textile town and if you lived at that time you could park on Church Street – both sides.”
It was a bustling textile and hosiery community, well known throughout the southern states as “the hosiery center of
the south.” Baseball was a popular pastime, and one form of entertainment often included visiting the “street preacher” who never failed to deliver sermons on Main Street every Saturday.
Despite the small-town atmosphere and close-knit community of Alamance County, the era of the 1940s would prove to be a time of immense hardship for many families.
“By the end of the war in 1945 more than 5,000 Alamance County people would serve in WWII, and more than 200 would not come home,” said Bolden.
Life on the home front required sacrifices for every family. Food, gasoline, housing and tires were rationed. Americans were asked to set aside 10 percent of their wages to purchase war bonds.
Several famous movie stars, breezing through the region on a mission to sell war bonds, visited the county on different occasions. In 1942, Hollywood actors, John Payne and Jane Wyman, arrived in Burlington “as part of a caravan traveling across the nation,” and sold $49,329 worth of war bonds on East Front Street.
It wasn’t long before families began receiving telegrams of the deaths of loved ones. A memorial was erected at May Memorial Library in the early 1940s to honor the fallen soldiers and their families. Names would continue to be added before the war’s end.
“We began to take special notice of the golden stars that were beginning to appear across the community,” said Bolden, “If a family had a loved one in service, there was a blue star on the little flag hanging in the window. But in the event that an individual died in the war, the star turned to gold.”
More difficulties arose in Alamance County with the dreaded polio disease. The third case was reported in July of 1944, which prompted county and health officials to close parks and public places to prevent the spread of the disease. The disease soon became a raging epidemic in the community.
Floods, freezing winters and fuel shortages added to the discomfort suffered by Alamance residents.
“But then in May of 1945 everybody knew that the end of that war was coming soon,” said Bolden.
AN END ON THE HORIZON
On May 7, 1945, the Daily Times-News reported the end of the war. The headlines proclaimed, “Germany Surrenders!” in large, black
and bold text. Immediately, churches opened their doors and a celebration ensued unlike anything Alamance County had ever seen.
“Everyone was so excited around here they even canceled baseball games, and all businesses closed for two days to celebrate,” said Bolden.
Though the end of the war was a joyous occasion, many were still consciously aware of the fact that the soldiers were still gone, and some would never return.
Bolden describes Alamance County as it once was:
Click here to visit Bolden’s Blog