In 1917, the great conflict which was raging in Europe engulfed the United States. Once again the men and women of Alamance were called on to play their part. This was a "war to end all wars," and the country girded itself for an all-out effort.
Company I of the North Carolina National Guard had just returned to Alamance County from a training mission on the Mexican Border, and when the general mobilization was sounded in April, 1917, the local unit was quickly mustered into the Federal Service. They were ordered to Camp Glenn, Morehead City, and from there to Camp Sevier, Greenville, South Carolina, from which point they embarked for overseas service in the Spring of 1918.
In the vanguard of those who were to follow them in the different branches of the service on land and sea, and, to a more limited extent, in the infant Air Corps, members of Company I saw early combat service in Belgium, supplied instructors returning to "the States" and in Europe, and faced the enemy again and again and again on the Somme, in the Aisne-Marne Section, and were in the front of the assault that penetrated the "impregnable" Hindenburg Line before Bellecourt in France.
The Company returned to the States shortly after the armistice, and its members were mustered out of the Federal service on April 15, 1919, at Camp Jackson, South Carolina.
The National Guard did not march from Alamance alone; more and more private citizens enlisted or were inducted into the service. Many of them saw service with the Eighty-First (Wildcat) Division at St. Mihiel and at Verdun and at other now-famous sites.
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
The records reveal that a total of 1,096 Alamance County men and women served during these years. Of these, forty-five were officers; 848 enlisted men, including 200 Negro troops; eighty-five served in the Navy; five in the Marine Corps; and two in the Nurses Corps. There were 110 casualties among them, including those who were killed in action and those who died of disease or other causes while in the service.
The citizens who stayed behind did their part well in the home-front war. A rationing program was instituted for flour and fats, and wastepaper collections were made regularly in the different communities. The ladies of the county sold Liberty bonds at street rallies; sauerkraut became known as "liberty cabbage;" a quantity of corn meal had to be purchased with every bag of flour.
An epidemic of influenza and other diseases spread through the county, and churches and schoolhouses in some communities were turned into temporary hospitals to take care of the ill. Many victims died.
The difficulties and hardships of those days are too familiar and common to war for any detailed discussions of them here. The armistice, when it finally came, brought tears and thanksgiving.
Some of the "boys" did not come home—some would sleep forever in Flanders fields; some remained behind in France during the long months of occupation; some came home with the physical scars of war fresh upon them; some came with only the mental scars of mud and cold, guns and gas, trenches and shell holes, hunger and disease—and bitter memories of their part in the "war to end all wars".
Another twenty-three years of peace lay ahead of them and their children. These were to be years of vast expansion, modernization and improvements. They were also to be years of the "roaring twenties", the depression, the climb to prosperity and the descent into another and more disastrous war.
Through Prohibition and the "roaring twenties", Alamance marched steadily forward in industry, in agriculture, and in every phase of economic life. Since this county remained "dry", there was little of the turmoil over the liquor issue which disturbed
Looking northeast up Main Street in Burlington about 1913.
northern cities during these years. The times here were peaceful; living was good.
Then, in 1929, the depression broke, and this did affect Alamance. Banks failed, mills closed, and many wage-earners throughout the county found themselves without jobs or forced to work at reduced wages. Strikes broke out, and crime followed in their wake.
Many merchants and businessmen lowered their prices and frequently extended credit to their customers who could no longer pay for the necessities they must have. Relief agencies moved in and helped find groceries and work for those who were in most desperate need. Through all of its depression pains, however, Alamance County survived with better wages and more employment than most counties of its size in either the State or Nation.
The county law enforcement agencies had to fight an increase in lawlessness, including robberies and industrial riots. On November 13, 1931, two masked gunmen pulled alongside an automobile on the Burlington-Haw River road, and forced the cashier of the Haw River bank and his wife to stop at the point of a gun. J. A. Long, the cashier, was carrying an industrial payroll of $1,000 which the gunmen seized from him. The pair was
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
later seized and convicted of this crime. A few days after the robbery, however, an unmasked but armed man walked into the Haw River bank itself and took $500 from Long. He, too, was soon arrested and afterwards confessed to the crime.
The safe at the Swepsonville post office was cracked on the night of March 17, 1934, and the sum of $300 was taken, and a short time later, the post office at Elon College was robbed. Various business places were broken into, and a large quantity of merchandise disappeared. Many crimes of a similar nature flared in other parts of the county.
In September, 1933, the Superior Court at Graham ruled out slot machines in the county, and two months later, a number of establishments which were still operating the outlawed machines were raided. Prohibition rallies were frequently defeated in purpose by the increased ouput of illegal "stills" which were operated in the woods of the county.
A part of these crimes has been attributed to the tense feeling of unrest and the lack of employment during the period. The county welfare department was swamped with applications for assistance. A unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps employed local men in reforestation projects. Men were enlisted for a six-months' period at a monthly wage of $30, plus their food and clothing. The Civil Works Administration functioned from an office in Graham, through which scores of unemployed workers were placed on relief work. CWA projects totaling $100,000, including the expansion of schools and the construction of privies, were brought to the county.
On October 29, 1933, fire gutted the Farmers Warehouse, the Burlington Paper Box Company plant and several stores in the vicinity of the Alamance Hotel, at a loss of $50,000. Several other major fires occured during this period.
Slowly the depression lifted. Business became stabilized, unemployment dropped, and the tension eased. Factories began to hum once more, business was brisk, and the farm-aid programs left many rural sections more productive than they had ever been before. All of these things helped to bring an end to the years of famine, fire and fear.
The banks staged major programs for recovery and were able to reopen their doors in the latter part of 1933-1934. Business, industry and banking climbed weakly but surely back to "normal", but only to face the gathering clouds of another war.
Most of these events and the many which must be omitted from this work are recent history so familiar to the people of Alamance County that there is no need to discuss them at length. The entire effect of the depression left a mark on the county which was not erased until the "boom" of World War II, which still casts a shadow over the memory of the county's people.
WORLD WAR II
The history of the Second World War must be written in the years to come, when men can look back on the war years and the aftermath and judge their importance with more accuracy. Even in 1949, eight years after the War began, the economic, social and moral problems created by these times remain to be solved. Such things affect not only the Nation; they affect every county and every community; they affect every individual of our time and of the years which lie ahead.
Selective Service began to draw men from Alamance County in 1940, and the local National Guard Company were called into the Federal Service once again to train the new enlistees and inductees. By the date when the United States entered the War, December 8, 1941, the sight of service uniforms and military language and customs had already become familiar to the people.
More than 5,000 Alamance County men and women were called into service or enlisted voluntarily, and thousands more undertook the tremendous responsibilities of war work. Fairchild Aircraft Corporation established a war plant at Burlington for the production of training planes for the Army Air Force, and several hundred residents of this county, as well as hundreds from other parts of the country, came to Burlington to work in this and similar war industries.
Rationing programs on foods, gasoline, tires, housing and many other phases of economic life were borne by those who re-
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
mained at home. The industrial plants of the county converted their machinery or production to meet the demands of the war. The banks, post offices, schools, factories and businesses sold war bonds and war stamps to help finance the great cost of the worldwide conflict. Hardly any part of life in Alamance County remained untouched either directly or remotely by the war. And, in this, Alamance was typical of the many other counties through the nation.
The War Department reported the total of Army casualties from Alamance County at 153; ninety-eight were killed in action, thirteen died of wounds, one died of injuries, thirty-nine died not in battle, and two were declared dead after they were reported missing in action. Alamance casualties in other branches of the service, Navy, Marine Corps, and the women's auxiliary branches were less than this figure combined.
Men from Alamance County served at almost every fort, camp and base in the United States, aboard ships throughout the
Graham Presbyterian Church.
world, and in all parts of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and the Western Hemisphere.
The fighting War was over, but hundreds of veterans and post-war service men remain on active duty in this country and abroad. The renewed selective service program of 1948 and the recruiting drives now being conducted by all branches of the service are attracting a large number of boys who were too young to see service during the war.
The War is not finished; peace treaties have not been signed. And though Alamance County has returned to the peaceful growth of post-war years, it is still affected by the conditions which grew out of the war itself.
The Episcopal Church of the Hold Comforter in Burlington.