Posts Tagged ‘GI Bill’

Thousands of merchant seamen lost lives in World War II

posted on March 24, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

“The first Liberty ship was named after Patrick Henry. The last 100 have been named for merchant seamen who died in wartime service.” –Fore ‘n’ Aft, Kaiser Richmond shipyard newsletter, May 18, 1945.[i]

Almost 1,500 World War II Liberty and Victory ships were built in the Kaiser shipyards. What most people do not realize is that they were not produced for the U.S. Navy – they were made for the United States Maritime Commission, an independent federal agency created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.[ii]

These ships were vital to winning the war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a message congratulating those who built the ships:

“This headquarters has just heard the glorious news that American shipyards have produced more than 2,100 merchant vessels in the past two years.

WPA poster recruiting for US Maritime Service, 1942; image courtesy Library of Congress

WPA poster recruiting for U.S. Maritime Service, 1942; image courtesy Library of Congress

“This remarkable record, unequaled in history, will bring confidence and encouragement to every soldier, sailor and airman in the Allied Forces, for they are most keenly aware that their ability to carry on the fight, indeed, their ability to survive, is completely dependent on ships . . . Ships, still more ships, and ever more ships will help smash the enemy.”[iii]

But ships don’t run by themselves. Merchant seamen staffed those vessels and thus served a vital – and dangerous – function during World War II. Although usually thought of as civilians, these seamen were “military” according to International Law because their ships were armed – albeit lightly. The merchant mariners were trained to shoot and could fire on the enemy if threatened.

President Roosevelt lauds seamen

President Roosevelt declared in 1944: “It seems to me particularly appropriate that Victory Fleet Day this year should honor the men and management of the American Merchant Marine.

“The operators in this war have written one of its most brilliant chapters. They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken.

“As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our merchant fleet’s record during this war,” Roosevelt said.[iv]

"Back the invasion- Get the oil to the tanks" shipyard progress infographic billboard, Kaiser Swan Island shipyard (Oregon), 1944

“Back the invasion – Get the oil to the tanks” shipyard progress infographic billboard, Kaiser Swan Island Shipyard (Oregon), 1944

Legislation to equalize benefits for merchant seamen with those afforded members of the armed services under the GI Bill languished in Congress, despite the president’s endorsement and support from Admiral Emory S. Land, chairman of the Maritime Commission.

On the advice of his labor relations lawyer, Harry F. Morton, Henry Kaiser pushed for the legislation. Morton wrote to Kaiser:[v]

“I cannot see how this endorsement could possibly affect our dealings with the various unions since the purpose of the bill is to compensate the seamen for the personal risks these men take daily while in the service.

“As Admiral Land points out . . . more than 5,700 merchant seamen have lost their lives or have been reported missing in action, and over 500 of them are prisoners of war.

“True enough, merchant seamen receive considerably more pay than do the men in the Armed Services, but that alone does not warrant the conclusion that they are not entitled to the added protection recommended by Admiral Land.

“ . . . [it is] my conclusion that you should join with the President and Admiral Land in recommending this legislation (because) any other course would be inconsistent with your advocacy of merchant seamen’s needs in the past. I recommend this even though it is a departure from your standard position regarding endorsements of proposed legislation.”

Yet with Roosevelt’s untimely death on April 12, 1945, political support for extending basic benefits to merchant seamen for their wartime service vanished until Congress awarded them veterans’ status 40-plus years later in 1988 – too late for half of those who served.

 

Special thanks to Toni Horodysky, historian behind the American Merchant Marine at War website, for help with this article.

Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/1eGheL3


[i] Not only were 100 ships thusly named, an additional 20 were named for merchant mariners who received the Distinguished Service Medal. Only one of these – the SS Samuel L. Cobb, launched May 27, 1944, named for a seaman lost April 17, 1942, aboard the SS Alcoa Guide – was built in a Kaiser shipyard.

[ii] Although building merchant ships was its top priority, until the Maritime Commission became the Federal Maritime Commission in 1950 it was also responsible for training ship’s officers under the U.S. Maritime Service.

[iii] General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Mediterranean area, message to home front workers, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/22/1943

[iv] Franklin D. Roosevelt, public address 9/19/1944.

[v] Inter-Office memo from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser, 12/23/1944; Henry J. Kaiser papers, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, BANC 26:25-4

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Henry J. Kaiser’s assembly-line building fills need for postwar homes

posted on October 21, 2013
Henry J. Kaiser greets the George family at the Kaiser Community Homes all-aluminum house on Osborne Street in Panorama City. Bancroft Library photo

Henry J. Kaiser greets the George family at the Kaiser Community Homes all-aluminum house on Osborne Street in Panorama City.
Bancroft Library photo

by Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Secret to mass production: Build ‘chassis’ for houses just as Detroit does for automobiles

A post-World War II opportunity to build thousands of small, affordable homes for returning servicemen and their families excited Henry J. Kaiser. Mass producing homes to meet an urgent demand fit right into Kaiser’s vision of the “fifth freedom” he referred to in wartime speeches.

President Roosevelt had enumerated for the American people the “Four Freedoms” at stake in the war: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear and freedom from want. To this list, Kaiser added “freedom of abundance.”

“Everyone who is willing to work and save has the right to be decently and comfortably housed,” Kaiser told the Conference of the National Committee on Housing in Chicago in 1944.

Kaiser had been involved in many housing projects during the war that required fast construction. Under Kaiser’s sponsorship and with federal financial aid, noted San Francisco Bay Area builder David Bohannon had built the 700-home community of Rollingwood for shipyard workers in Richmond, Calif., in just 693 hours.

Kaiser revolutionized ship construction by turning it into an assembly line and prefabrication industry. Workers trained in new techniques set production records in Kaiser’s wartime shipyards on the San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.

By the time the war was over, Henry Kaiser was more than ready to start building homes as fast as possible. Financing was available through the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Authority, so people were ripe for homeownership.

New neighborhoods to rise in short order

Kaiser joined forces with builder Fritz Burns and devised a plan to develop two- and three-bedroom, roughly 1,000-square foot homes that were attractive, affordable and distinct from one another.  Preassembly of various home components made it possible to build about 40 homes a day, each constructed with about 40 manufactured panels.

Architects' rendering of Kaiser Housing development in 1948. Bancroft Library photo

Architects’ rendering of Kaiser Housing development in 1948. Bancroft Library photo

Kaiser Community Homes built a factory In Westchester in Southern California and began to manufacture and preassemble puzzle-like pieces to be trucked to the home sites. Within the factory, there were assembly lines for production of interior, exterior, floor and ceiling panels. In other areas, workers built kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, and assembled plumbing parts.

“Science Illustrated” magazine carried a description of the Kaiser house-building concept:

“As you look at a block of Kaiser Homes you can’t find two that look alike, and yet each house is the same in interior construction. This is the secret of Kaiser’s mass production plan; he builds ‘chassis’ for houses, as Detroit builds chassis for automobiles.

“The chassis consists of a rectangular core of five and a half rooms. This he turns out in a sprawling 15-acre factory. Garages, roofs, porches are also mass-produced, but they are put on the chassis in a variety of ways.

“One house may have the garage attached at the right front corner. One may have it at the left rear corner. Or a third may have it completely detached,” the February 1947 article reads.

Innovative construction methods tested

Related to his homebuilding enterprise, Kaiser considered retooling the Richmond shipyards as a manufacturing site for developing a preassembled “mechanical core or heart” for his homes, which would have included the kitchen, bath and utility rooms.

The Kaiser design planned for a monolithic unit: floor and wall panels, cabinets, countertops, lavatory, and prewired and plumbed equipment.

Developer Fritz Burns and Henry J. Kaiser set up a model home on Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to show their postwar home plans to the public.

Developer Fritz Burns and Henry J. Kaiser set up a model home on Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to show their postwar home plans to the public.

The Kaisercraft Coordinated Kitchen was to feature a stove, sink, cabinets, refrigerator, dishwasher and garbage disposal. Plans for the core unit were eventually scrapped due to the expense that would be added to the price of the homes, which were intended to be low cost.

Henry J. Kaiser probably made his biggest splash as a homebuilder in 1948 when he awarded his prototype “all-aluminum home,” the only one of its kind, to the winning contestant on the “People Are Funny” radio game show hosted by Art Linkletter.

The winner, Vivienne George, moved her family from a ramshackle house in Lebanon, Ore., to Panorama City, where they became the first residents of the Kaiser Community Homes, dubbed by Los Angeles regional planners as a “model suburb.” Vivienne was married to Ward George, a disabled WWII veteran, and the couple had two children.

A Kaiser Homes press release described the George family’s prize: “A beautifully furnished home with range, refrigerator, Kaiser hydraulic dishwasher and disposal unit and a two-car garage. In the garage stands a 1948 Kaiser sedan.” Previously, a model for potential buyers to tour, the all-aluminum home was moved from the corner of Chase and Van Nuys streets to Osborne Street for the Georges.

The 65-year-old Kaiser Homes “model community” in Panorama City still stands amid other development in the vicinity today. The area has fallen on hard times in recent years and a community effort is under way to reinvigorate the neighborhood and surrounding postwar subdivisions and businesses.

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