Harrisburg in World War II by Rodney Ross

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Harrisburg in World War II
by Rodney Ross
The History Press, 192 pp.,
paperback $21.99

Like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, author Rodney Ross fires off brief declarative sentences to tell his story of how Pennsylvania’s capital city prepared for and aided the war effort between 1941 and 1945. As it became apparent that the United States would enter the war, the citizens of Harrisburg were apprised of how to aid in the defense of the city and how to behave in the event of air raids on the area’s civil and military institutions. Newspapers, movie houses, schools, churches and community organizations helped to spread vital information.

As the war progressed, Harrisburgers — like most Americans — felt the deprivation compelled by rationing but responded to calls for commodities like silk and nylon hosiery, rubber, metals from old autos, license plates, bottle caps, blond hair for military weather equipment, and blood badly needed for the wounded.

Although organizations provided distraction for soldiers and defense workers with canteens and other entertainment, Ross points out that authorities had to deal with prostitution, crime, and an alarming rise in venereal disease. Animosity toward persons of Japanese or German origin led to harassment, even arrest.

Harrisburg mourned the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, and solemnly acknowledged the surrender of Germany on May 7. Life was beginning to return to a sense of normalcy when on August 15 the Japanese surrendered following the devastation of two atomic bombs. This time, the city exploded with delight as citizens crowded into Market Square to celebrate their country’s victories.

Using books, articles from magazines and journals, the internet, and miscellaneous sources, Ross sketches out the progress of the war and its aftermath. Perhaps it is the local newspapers of the era that provide the most important insights. Numerous vintage photographs, most from newspapers but some from local historical organizations, illustrate the text. An educator, Ross has provided readers a tool to facilitate discussion of the effects of war on a community in hopes that such a gigantic effort will never have to be expended again.

John K. Robinson
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, ret.