Editorial: Nebraskans have a habit of coming together for the common good | Editorial
Posted onAuthorHazel D. MarcellComments Off on Editorial: Nebraskans have a habit of coming together for the common good | Editorial
Last month’s story about Nebraska’s scrap metal collection during World War II is a reminder of how our state’s residents can work together to achieve something good.
It happened 80 years ago. That makes it old news for some Nebraskans who lived through it and forgotten history for many others. The fascinating story told by World-Herald writer Steve Liewer has surely opened the eyes of some readers.
In the summer of 1942, seven months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some aspects of the American war effort on the home front were in trouble. A campaign to collect scrap rubber to make tires and tank treads had failed, and steelworks risked having to halt production due to a shortage of scrap metal.
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Omaha World-Herald President Henry Doorly decided to take action by launching a statewide scrap metal drive designed to, as Liewer wrote, “exploit the competitive spirit of men , women and children in every corner of Nebraska”.
It’s certain. In just three weeks, Nebraskans had recovered 67,000 tons of scrap metal from attics, basements, farm fields and businesses. This equaled 104 pounds of scrap metal for every person in the state.
Manufacturing companies brought in surplus equipment. Farmers have abandoned tractors. Children scoured the alleys for tin cans and even threw their toys on the junk heaps.
The families whose sons went to war were particularly motivated. A woman from Omaha, a widow, donated an iron stove, pots and some iron pipes and bars. She told a reporter that her son was leaving for the army in three days.
“I have seen the housewives of Omaha go to war,” wrote World-Herald reporter Bill Billotte, “as surely as if they were sailing to the front with a machine gun under each arm.”
But it wasn’t just the Omahans. Doorly’s junk-collecting genius was that he held a contest in which Nebraska’s 93 counties tried to collect the most material, in pounds per capita.
The statewide winner was Grant County in the Sandhills, which raised 638 pounds for each of its 1,327 residents. Douglas County had the most scrap, amassing a mountain of 12,500 tons of material, but finished in the middle of the pack per capita.
Through it all, the Omaha World-Herald and other Nebraska newspapers supported the campaign with extensive coverage. It’s a reminder of how local journalism can play an important role in not only informing readers, but also helping our communities come together to take action on the important issues of the day.
In fact, the World-Herald won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for spearheading the campaign.
Nebraska’s effort became the model for a national campaign later that year. During this fall campaign, a competition between states, Nebraska added an additional 80,000 tons of scrap, or 123 pounds per person. That was good enough for sixth-best in the nation — though Nebraskans were proud to point out that their combined 227 pounds per person in the two rides was far more than any other state.
There is no doubt that Nebraskans made a difference to the war effort. In the Nebraska campaign alone, statewide transport was enough to build 1 million anti-aircraft shells, 130 Navy PT boats, or 200 57-ton tanks. Beyond that, Henry Doorly’s idea energized the home front’s commitment to victory, here and across the country.
In today’s polarized world, it can be hard to imagine Nebraskans rallying behind a single goal like the scrap metal drive of 1942. But that’s an overly pessimistic view, filtered through the divisions we have. recent views on how to respond to the pandemic.
When the chips are down, Nebraskans have a long history of hard work, hard work, and things that strengthen their families, their communities, and even the nation. It is helpful for all of us to remember this as we face today’s challenges.
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