Attack on Pearl Harbor was 77 years ago, but LaPorte industries had a jump on the war effort

The USS Oklahoma burns and lists in Pearl Harbor after being bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. Among the more than 400 sailors who died on the ship were brothers William and Harold Trapp of LaPorte.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column by LaPorte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz was originally published by WNLP in 2009. It is being re-posted here in honor of the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

It seems appropriate to ask the historic question (to those of a certain age): “Where were you when you heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941?” That moment forever changed the lives of folks who lived in LaPorte County, for the events of World War II had a tremendous effect on this county’s history.

A woman installs a tail fin on a 20-lb. bomb at Kingsbury Ordnance Plant. (Courtesy substreet.org)

LaPorte County was already defense-minded before the U.S. entered the war. During 1941, prior to the Pearl Harbor attack but long after other countries had been engaged in the war, the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant was already virtually completed and shell loading had begun. Several industrial plants had been awarded defense contracts. Allis-Chalmers had begun work on the manufacture of anti-aircraft gun mounts for the Army ordnance department, a contract amounting to $5.1 million.

Both Michigan City and LaPorte took steps to protect their war industry power lines and communication centers from sabotage. The most closely guarded region was the Kingsbury plant.

By September of 1941 — 3 months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor — 163 dwelling structures, which would provide housing for 400 defense workers and their families, were rapidly taking shape in the federal government’s housing project in the area between 13th and 15th streets on the south city limits of LaPorte. On Oct. 19, 1941, this project was named Maple Terrace.

Harold Trapp

William Trapp

Another housing project announced Jan. 7, 1942, was for Victory City, which was to consist of 3,100 demountable (capable of being deconstructed) homes. On April 1, 1942, this area was named Kingsford Heights.

No Michigan City soldiers on duty in Hawaii or the Philippines were listed on preliminary official war department casualty reports. More than a dozen Michigan City draftees and U.S. Navy fliers were known to be on duty in Hawaii and one in the Philippines. Men from LaPorte were in the “thick of things,” in service on the USS Oklahoma, sunk by Japanese bombers. Among those giving their lives on the Oklahoma were brothers William and Harold Trapp of LaPorte. In total, 429 sailors died on the Oklahoma.

The Civil Aeronautics Commission ordered all airports closed that did not provide 24-hour guard service. It was reported that LaPorte was prepared to abandon its airport, and unless Michigan City could obtain an official designation, LaPorte County would be without a flying field.

LaPorte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

In the event war reached LaPorte County, county roads would be blocked off. Women would assist in Red Cross work, and the county superintendent of schools was given the responsibility of presenting school needs. It was already noted that used-tire sales were booming, and hoarding was seen. Women were being asked to work among the rural groups and to put up more canned goods and conserve food material.

The various state employment services were turned over to the federal government for the duration of the emergency. The service was to be known as the United States Employment Service.

All clocks went on Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. Feb. 9, 1942, and were to remain on that time for the duration of the war, and for not more than six months thereafter, to achieve greater efficiency in the country’s industrial war effort.

On May 8, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered, followed on Sept. 2, 1945, by the surrender of Japan. Thus ended the costliest and most terrible war in all history to that time, which involved virtually every nation in the world.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is LaPorte County’s official Historian.

One Response to “Attack on Pearl Harbor was 77 years ago, but LaPorte industries had a jump on the war effort”

  1. lawman

    Dec 07. 2018

    the old Maple Terrace. wow. grew up in 50s and 60s and had a lot of friends in there. all went to tenth st school and hung at Carper’s store. still talked about when we get together today

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