World War II

Though fought across the Atlantic Ocean, World War II had a major impact on Greensboro during the first half of the 1940s. With a huge petroleum tank farm and a variety of industries supporting the wartime effort, the city felt the daily stress of being an enemy target. Wary citizens went inside when darkness came. Household curtains were drawn to hide any glowing lights. After the war, the city returned to its normal routine, continuing to thrive in the prosperity of the post-Depression era.

Enemy Threats

  • Greensboro garnered plenty of interest from enemy bombers and saboteurs. The huge petroleum tank farm near Lindley Field, now Piedmont Triad International Airport, was the largest target.
  • Through intelligence gathering, enemy agents knew that Greensboro industries were turning out products needed for the American war effort. These war-time contracts helped pull companies out of the Great Depression.
    • Cone Mills Corp. and other textile company manufactured military uniforms.
      Mock, Judson & Voehringer Hosiery Mill transitioned from making hosiery to producing material for parachutes.
    • Vick Chemical added lubricants needed for America’s war machine to their product list.
      Norell Tent Co. made canvass shelters that soldiers and Marines called home in faraway places.
    • J.D. Wilkins, Co. made parts for landing craft on which troops stormed beaches. Wheezing and Miles made bomb parts.
    • Lane’s Laundry won a huge contract to do laundry for an Army Air Corps base on Summit Avenue and for several other bases in the state.

Quality of Life

  • Many townspeople opened their home to lonely soldiers for meals and conversations. In one instance, 1,000 soldiers marched from the base through downtown to Greensboro College for a night of entertainment at Odell Auditorium.
  • A city group operating the USO clubs spent $75,000 to $100,000 a year to provide entertainment.
  • Cone Mills continued to pay Christmas bonuses to employees who were serving in the military.
    The war crowd was rowdy, especially as the war came to an end and a festive mood prevailed among soldiers and civilians. “Hamburger Square” at the intersection of McGee and South Elm streets, named because of its burger and beer joints, became a red light district.

Base Camp

  • Despite labor shortages, AAF Basic Training Camp No. 10, a boot camp for recruits, was completed in nine months. The base opened on March 1, 1943.
  • In 1944, the base was renamed the Overseas Replacement Depot or ORD. Men and women came through the camp to be assigned posts overseas. German prisoners of war were also quartered on the base.
  • Before he was a household name, Charlton Heston visited the base, and even married his girlfriend Linda in Greensboro’s own Grace United Methodist Church.

Post-War Life

  • When the war ended in mid 1945, the base camp took on several other new purposes, including a discharge center. The base closed in September, 1946.
  • Of the more than 9,000 Greensboro men who went to war, 288 were killed. The dead included Major George Preddy, a fighter pilot who was a leading ace in Europe for the 8th Air Force. He once shot down six German planes in five minutes.
  • Many cities tried to persuade the government to keep temporary war time bases open after the war. Greensboro was not one of them. The city was eager to get back to civilian business, to take back the airport and to develop the land where a giant Army base once stood.
  • The area that was the base, including its half dozen drill fields, is covered with post-war commercial and industrial buildings.