Maytag Factory, Newton IA - Changes to Support World War II

The decision by the United States to join World War II required mass production of goods and increased services to support the war effort. Within weeks the country was changing course and retooling existing factories to support the needs of the war. The United States needed to produce more airplanes, ships, vehicles, guns and ammunition for the war. Maytag was one of the Iowa firms that stopped producing consumer goods and started making war supplies.


Transcript

Maytag was one of the Iowa firms that stopped producing consumer goods and started making war supplies. In 1943, 19-year-old hollys "pat" Harrison from Albia, formerly Hollys Tarbell, had been working for a local dentist taking care of domestic chores. Harrison saw a newspaper advertisement placed by the Maytag company in newton.  “All the guys were doing something. They were fighting, going to service, and enlisting and what have you, that we knew. We thought it would be a good idea for us to do something too while we could, and the money was good.”  The company, famous for its clothes washers, started making aircraft parts. Harrison was hired to make exhaust systems for b-26 marauder bombers. To help finance the creation of war goods, the government began to offer bonds. The investment strategy was not lost on Maytag employees. Together they purchased a b-26 marauder for the war effort. End Cut 7

Begin Cut 11 For some, joining the service was a chance to relocate. Thelma Kardon, formerly Sherman, was a 21-year-old native of Chelsea, Massachusetts, who joined the women's army auxiliary corps in November of 1942. 

“The training was fantastic. It put me on my shoulders, told me what to do. I took everything in, what they had. You didn't get your -- like a corporal sergeant; you had to earn it. And they tested you on that every month in order to get more money. And I was getting $78 a month.”  Kardon trained at the WAC base located at Fort Des Moines and earned the rank of technical sergeant. The training facility was the first of its kind for women in the United States. Because women were not allowed to be involved in combat, the WACs  took stateside and foreign headquarters jobs that allowed men to fight the battles. Kardon spent the duration of her service in Des Moines as a military policewoman. 

I was so proud to be there. The parade grounds at Fort Des Moines were just beautiful, everything. From the barracks on the Drake University campus, Kardon would patrol the city of Des Moines with one other WAC, armed with nothing more than a flashlight and limited training in hand-to-hand combat. End Cut 11 

In November of 1943, second lieutenant Al Rolfes of Le Mars was approaching Makin Island with his platoon. Now 24 years old, he had been drafted in February of 1942 and assigned to company "E" of the 165th infantry regiment of the 27th infantry division. 

“We didn't know what was going to happen. We'd never been in combat. We had a bunch of naval gunfire. They pre-shelled that and strafed it with aircraft, the beach there that we were landing on. And I didn't think there could be a mosquito left there.”  As his landing craft approached the beach, the boat's commander yelled final instructions to Rolfes. 

“All of a sudden he yelled at me; he said, ‘lieutenant, you're going to be on your own’ and we were starting to slow down. We were touching reef and we had heavy loads, a tank and everything. And he dropped the ramp and I went head over heels in the water. Well, anyway, I came up spitting water. And it was wadeable, you know, it wasn't -- but they were shooting at us out in the water too as we were heading in.” Makin island was captured in four days. Nearly 1,000 Americans were wounded and more than 350 were killed. 

As the end of 1943 approached, the 34th division was part of the force that pushed axis troops out of Africa. Allied soldiers had moved across the Mediterranean Sea and were now on the Italian peninsula. Even with the heavy fighting, Greenfield native sergeant Russell "bill" Smith, of the red bulls' 133rd infantry regiment company "I," was able to have an occasional respite from battle. 

“I think in Italy, once we were 76 days on the line was the longest, but usually about two months. Then we would get a ten-day off the line -- get what they call care and cleaning of equipment and cleaned up all of our stuff. They'd have a big shower set up -- a big, long shower. You'd go in there and just shower till your heart's delight and come out the other end with new clothes on. Then we'd get replacements and we'd train them for a few days. Then we'd go back up to the front line again.” 

By mid-summer 1944, members of company "I" were attacking German troops somewhere north of Rome, Italy. Bill smith was returning to the battlefield after requesting an artillery barrage when he came upon a small patrol of five German soldiers that had made it behind the American lines. As the Germans prepared to shoot at the backs of company "I" soldiers, smith took his captured German Lugar out of its holster. 

“I seen 'em there so that's when I stopped, and that's when I realized I didn't have a shell in the gun of my -- a shell in the barrel of my Lugar. Well, I just drew up like that and that clicked. That's when this German heard me, when that clicked. I had a shell in the barrel then, and I had it on him just like that, you know. And he decided that was a good time to quit being a soldier, I guess. He looked around and, of course, I had it right on him. Then he hollered at the rest of them, and they all threw up their hands and dropped their weapons, and I marched them back.” 

For saving the men in company "I," Smith was awarded the Silver Star. After landing on Saipan in June of 1944, now first lieutenant al Rolfes had dug in above Tanapag Harbor. Japanese soldiers hiding nearby soon realized he was in charge and began to attack his position. 

“So they knew I was a leader there because I was up and down the line checking the men and everything. Well, anyway, I heard this thump on the end of my foxhole, and I knew it was a grenade. And rather than roll -- we had the parapet around the foxhole -- it rolled out of my foxhole rather than into my foxhole, and it went off. And quite an explosion, of course. And two more right behind it. And I still didn't -- the other two men in my platoon didn't get hit either.”


Excerpt from "Iowa's WWII Stories," Iowa PBS, 2006