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December 7th, 1941 was the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor naval base in Honolulu Hawaii. The Japanese came in two waves from the air and unleashed their fury. They managed to damage 8 battleships and sink 4 of those ships and kill thousands. This inevitably brought the United States into the second world war. While Franklin D. Roosevelt was delivering his famous speech, people from all over the United States were heading down to local recruiting offices and finding ways to help the war efforts from the home front. Men and woman from all over Western New York stepped up and put in countless hours working at Curtiss Write, Belle Aircraft, Bethlehem Steel, and other factories to help manufacture supplies to help with the war. The “day that will live in infamy” is the same day that bought thousands from all over the US together to show the world that the United States will not go quietly.
The war in Europe had already started, and although the United States had not yet entered the war, we were already preparing for the inevitable. Curtiss Wright Corporation was the largest aircraft manufacture in the United States. In 1940 the National Defense Expansion Corporation purchased 124 acres of land across from the Buffalo airport and a massive building was built on the land known as Curtiss Write Aircraft Buffalo Plant number 2. Men and woman got up every day got ready and went to work at Curtiss Wright where they were helping to manufacture aircrafts for the war that we were just brought into. They took their place in one of the three divisions. Division one was the Curtiss Wright airplane division that manufactured airframes. The second division was the Wright Aeronautical Corporation which was the manufacturer of the engines. The third and final division was the Curtiss Wright propeller division which manufactured the propellers for the aircrafts. During the second World War they ended up producing 142,840 engines, 146,468 propellers, and 29,269 planes. They also employed over 180,000 workers in their facilities. Planes from Curtiss Wright were not only used by the US, but also by our allies. Men from all over joined the American Volunteer Group to help the Chinese fight off the Japanese, nicknamed “The Flying Tigers.” They were armed with 100, P-40 airplanes. On December 20th the Flying Tigers threw the first punches destroying 6 out of 10 Japanese bombers. The plant wasn’t just home for men, woman from all over the Western New York area stepped up and helped manufacture and assemble the aircrafts. Curtiss Wright also sponsored the woman’s aeronautical engineering and training program. These women became known as the Curtiss-Wright Cadettes. A total of 766 women ended up graduating from the program and went to work in the five different plants that they owned. Although women played a major role in the factories as well as Airforce pilots known as (WASP) after the war ended, the women were sent home and their job’s as home front wartime heroes had come to an end.
Another major manufacturer of war material was Bell Aircraft, which was in Buffalo NY. It was the builder for several fighter aircrafts and helicopters for WW2. Bell aircraft started off small with just Lawrence “Larry” Bell as the president, Ray Whitman, Robert Woods and a meager 56 employees. With the rise of Nazi Germany and the threats of Japan, The U.S, who was not currently in the war at this time, knew what they had to do. That was to start producing as much wartime material as possible. Bell had an idea for an aircraft that would push boundaries and take things to a whole new level. Bob Woods had started working on a new concept in early summer of 1936. He unveiled the P-39 Aircobra. However, it is considered the least liked of all the aircrafts developed for WW2. It couldn’t match the high altitude of other planes. It did boast some new ideas and technology not yet seen before, such as mounting the engine behind the cockpit. It was also the firsts design to have a landing gear under the nose in addition to one on either side of the plane’s fuselage making it more stable. If you look on today’s planes, it is the design that has been preferred and adopted. Bell manufactured more that 9,000 P-39 Aircobras, many of whom saw direct combat with the enemies. Just before the end of the war, Bell introduced an “updated” version of the Aircobra. This was a little big bigger and a bit more powerful, named the P-63 “Kingcobra.” It also produced the first American jet-powered airplane named the P-59 “Airacomet.” With the need for men to serve overseas in the military, the need for workers in the factory increased. Women and even high school students were ready to go to work on assembly lines and doing desk work. At its peak, they went from 65 employees to a staggering 36,000. Bell was also responsible for the manufacturing of helicopters for the armed forces. They didn’t just stop there though; they also played a huge role space travel which birthed Bello Aerospace. On October 20th, 1956 Lawrence Bell died of a stroke and was laid to rest at Forrest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY.
Bethlehem Steele opened its doors in 1863 and operated until 1995. It got its start in Bethlehem Pennsylvania before opening steel plants in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Massachusetts, Seattle, and Buffalo. Bethlehem Steel had become a major military contractor during the second World War. Steel production was so essential to the war efforts, that the plant nearly doubled in employment from the start of the war with 13,055 employees to its peak of 31,523 in the year 1943.According to one woman interviewed named Margaret Spalluzzi, she stumbled upon an add in the paper that needed women workers to take the place of the men at that plants that were now serving in the military. She said she “I dared them. 10 of them. I said let’s go be a welder. It was in Quinsy where we trained, but I don’t know exactly where in Quinsy. And after we trained, only 6 of us stayed in out of the 10.” The plant even took on several women willing to work and at the time they employed 25,000 women in various positions within the company, such as, mine work, railroad work, shipyards, fabricators and in the steel plants itself. Margaret and so many other female workers worked day in and day out to help mass produce war material, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor they received $1.3 billion dollars in orders to quickly produce more material. All in all, the plant produced 70% of plane cylinder forgings, ¼ of the warships armor plates, and 1/3 of cannon forgings. They also produces bomb casings, warships, gun parts and parachutes. All essentials needed for America to win the war.
When Perl Harbor happened, people went out in droves to their local recruiting sites and joined different military branches. They wanted to help defend the land they love. Civilians came out to support their loved ones and neighbors and witnessed the Army Day Parade. Ed Stone enlisted in the United States Navy in Buffalo at 17 years of age. A little after a year later, when he was 18, he was sent to Pearl Harbor where he was stationed. “We were under attack, and I survived.” Remembering the lives lost that day and the damage caused he knew from that moment that the United States was about to enter World War II. Local World War II combat veteran, from Olen NY, Charles “Charlie” Brown, was presented with a with a rare military honor called “The Ancient Order of St. Barbra” and it is only given to members of the US military arterially units who demonstrated outstanding service. “It is unbelievable they have treated me this way.” Brown says through a big grin. Still seeming to be in shock of being honored. He was sent overseas to fight in the Battle of the Bulge as well as Normandy. Wondering if he would ever see the Statue of Liberty again as he passed it by on his way out of the country. He brought home a lot of souvenirs from his time overseas, most of which are now in the hands of the New York State military Museum in Saratoga Springs. He still goes around to schools sharing his information of his time in the war. Educating those, so we may never forget those who served or the hardships they endured.
People from all over the United States stepped up and took on different roles to help in the effort to win the war. Business and factories in our own backyard made major contributions to the war. Places we drive by every day or have heard about or places some of our family and friends have worked at have a place in the history books when it comes to World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt was correct when he said that December 7th will live on in infamy. To this day everyone knows about the tragedy that took place on December 7th in Honolulu Hawaii at Peal Harbor. What many don’t know is the history that lies within the walls of beautiful Buffalo New York. One of the major cities to step up and give it their all, which in turn helped us win the war.
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