Ford Richmond Assembly Plant - Patriotism

During World War II, there were many ways individuals and groups could demonstrate their patriotic commitment to their nation's war efforts. The most direct participation, of course, was through military service, especially on tiie front lines with the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Army Air Force. Others, such as the men and women who worked at the Richmond Tank Depot, set aside their normal pursuits to work long hours producing the materiel needed by the military to prevail over the Axis powers in the war. Citizens who did not undertake either of those direct kinds of participation in the war effort, nevertheless had other means to contribute to the cause. One was through the purchase of War Bonds, a program devised by the U.S. Army. To instill in citizens the sense of a tangible contribution to the war, groups who bought the bonds could designate them towards the cost of specific vehicles. In November 1944, the Richmond Tank Depot received a shipment of plaques from OCO-D, engraved with the names of organizations presenting vehicles to the Army by purchasing War Bonds. For example, the students of Garfield Heights High School in Ohio purchased enough bonds to present the U.S. Army with a light tank; the Ladies Auxiliary of Lodge No. 9, Brotherhood Protective Order of the Elks, St. Louis, presented a heavy tank; the Commercial Telephone Employees of Alexandria, Virginia, presented a half-track personnel carrier; the Abraham and Chaia Rosenblum Foundation presented a scout car; the Class of 1944 at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia presented two scout cars and a half-lrack personnel carrier; and other organizations made similar presentations.

The practice continued into 1945, although simple decals replaced the plaques as the means of naming the organization that was presenting a particular vehicle to the U.S. Army. In March 1945, the Northern California War Finance Committee sent the Richmond Tank Depot 143 decals, each decal naming a school or other organization, representing the like number of vehicles school children purchased for the army tiirough War Bonds. Most of the schools were in California, but other western states were represented as well. Eleven Richmond schools purchased a total of fifteen vehicles, and some of the Richmond students and teachers were able to tour the depot and watch workers affix the decals to their vehicles.

Workers at ordnance facilities throughout the nation worked long days and weeks at often tedious jobs supplying soldiers, sailors, and airmen with the weapons, ammunition, and equipment they needed to wage war against the Axis powers. Companies operating the plants had huge orders to meet while facing chronic shortages of labor and materials. Absenteeism and labor turnover were high in many industries. Nevertheless, many of the workers were driven by a tremendous sense of patriotism, that they were doing their bit to help win the war. Many workers also sought to help foster a feeling of patriotism in the workplace through formally and informally instituted practices.

One practice entailed the circulation of stories portraying the mutual goodwill exhibited by Americans on the homefront as they worked together with the military to win the war. Two stories broadcast by the Lima Tank Depot are illustrative. During August 1943, there was a tremendous volume of tanks and other vehicles being prepared for shipment overseas, and the bottleneck in the system was in the crating department, where each vehicle was placed in its own wooden box. There were not enough workers to maintain the pace of crating that was required for the depot to meet its shipping deadline. Near week's end, the top Ordnance officer posted signs around the plant stating, "Nailers Wanted. 16 to 60 Years. Please Help." Workers at the plant carried the message home, and over the weekend some 700 townsfolk, representing professions from farmers and butchers to doctors and lawyers, came to the plant to lend a hand. Thanks to the weekend "Commandos," the Lima Tank Depot met its August deadlines.

In another Lima story, a worker had lost his wallet one day while processing a medium tank. After looking everywhere he could, he had concluded he would never find it again. Sometime later, though, he received the wallet in the mail, accompanied by a note from the soldier in North Africa who had found it. The wallet still held all of the Lima worker's money and identification papers, and the note thanked the worker for the job he was doing and begged that he keep it up.

To reward firms that excelled in production for the war effort and to publicize those good efforts in furtherance of national purpose, the military awarded firms the "E" Award. The Richmond branch received four such awards, the first on 31 July 1943. The ceremony at which the Richmond branch actually received the award took place on 24 August outside the plant. Richmond civic leader Fred Parr served as master of ceremonies, introducing Col. K.B. Harmon, chief of the San Francisco Ordnance District; Navy Capt. (ret.) Harvey Delano, War Plans Officer for the Twelfth Naval District; J.R. Davis, the Ford Motor Company's Western regional manager; and W.A. Abbott, superintendent of the Richmond branch. The award included a special flag that the Richmond branch could hoist on its flagpole below the flag of the United States. Employees also received special "E" pins. Following the ceremony, employees and their families and friends were able to walk along the roadway west of the plant, which was lined with dozens of examples of the vehicles the Richmond Tank Depot was processing. This was one of the first times people who did not work at the Richmond branch had been able to see what was happening there and the kinds of vehicles the army was sending overseas to support the troops. The other "E" awards followed on 29 January and 14 October 1944 and 5 May 1945. Rather than new flags, the subsequent awards each entailed a new star that the Richmond branch could add to its "E" Award pennant.

In January 1946, Gen. L.H. Campbell, Chief of Ordnance, sent Col. K.B. Harmon, Chief of the San Francisco Ordnance District, a letter requesting a list of "outstanding" prime contractors in the San Francisco District, contractors that excelled in meeting the following criteria:

a. getting into production in an unusually short time
b. distinction in quality of their production
c. unusual contribution to development, testing, or engineering
d. unusual reduction in cost
e. outstanding performance on spare parts deliveries
f. outstanding performance in handling engineering changes
g. special distinction in cooperating with Ordnance
h. high performance in meeting schedules
i. special managerial skill in using sub-contractors and avoiding excessive new facilities

Harmon responded with a list of forty-seven contractors whose record he and his staff considered outstanding. Of those, he highlighted twenty-one as being especially outstanding. The Ford Motor Company was one of the especially outstanding prime contractors for its operation of the Richmond Tank Depot. Other Richmond firms on the list were: the Chemurgic Corporation, which developed pyrotechnic materials; American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Company, which produced hand grenades; and Rheem Manufacturing Company, the Richmond plant of which made M13 cartridge storage cases. Companies in the San Francisco Ordnance District receiving Army-Navy "E" Awards, in addition to Ford's Richmond plant, were: Columbia Electric & Manufacturing Company of Spokane, which made artillery shells; Yuba Manufacturing Company of San Francisco, which produced 15 5mm howitzers (five of its sub-contractors in the Bay Area also received the Army-Navy "E" Award); and Fanger Research & Development Company of San Francisco, which developed a new manufacturing method for a split ring used on Yuba Manufacturing's 155 howitzer. Ford's Richmond plant was apparently the only one to receive multiple "E" Awards, perhaps because the facility never missed a production deadline, as cited by Harmon.

One thing private firms like Ford were not allowed to do during the early part of the war was advertise the contributions they were making to war production. The War Department prohibited announcements of any contracts received for production of ordnance. Richmond and the other Ford branches received instructions from Dearborn that the Ford News Bureau would make any such announcements on behalf of the company, but only when significant percentages of contracts had been delivered to the U.S. Army and then only after any announcement had been cleared with the War Department. It was in this context of secrecy during the early part of the war that the Richmond Tank Depot had been closed to the eyes of the public until reporters were allowed to view operations in July 1943 (described above), shortly before the August 1943 "E" Award ceremony.

Workers at the Richmond branch did more to support the troops in the field than simply do excellent work in preparing tanks and other combat vehicles for shipment abroad. They also undertook a special project aimed at bolstering the morale of soldiers on the front lines, far from home. Under the leadership of Frank Vivian, an engineer in the boiler room, members of UAW Local 560 (who called themselves the "boilerhouse gang") collected current magazines and newspapers from members of the community, wrapped them in packages, and placed a package in each completed jeep or tank before it was sealed for shipment. By November 1944, workers at the Richmond Tank Depot had sent 40 tons of magazines, bundled and stowed in vehicles, to the troops in the theatres of war. The Ford Motor Company allowed its employees to conduct the project on company time and provided work space for the packages to be assembled. Vivian also used his own wages to purchase small American flags so that a flag would adorn each vehicle that left the Richmond Tank Depot. He estimated that by September 1944 he had purchased 18,000 flags. The bundles of periodicals each carried a copy of a letter, of which the following are a few of the lines being sent in September 1944:
"For over two years, we old engineers at the Ford Motor Company Powerhouse at Richmond, California, Ford Plant, which is now known as the Richmond Tank & Motor Vehicle Depot, have been placing bundles of periodicals and magazines in export jeep crates, tanks, and other battle-wagons where there is spare space to stow them. The 'honeys' who now work in the plant bring them into the powerhouse and we engineers in our spare time bundle them up for you! The boys and the gals at the Ford Richmond Tank Depot will relax no effort until this job is done we promise you."

Vivian tried to think of other ways to boost morale for soldiers fighting overseas and convey to them the patriotic spirit of the ordnance workers on homefront. Whenever he saw that the Richmond Tank Depot was processing a group of tanks or other vehicles under a "deadline" order, he suspected that the tanks were bound for a beach landing. He would find a location in one of the vehicles to place an American flag of standard size, accompanied by a note saying, "HI 'BUDDIE,' PUT THIS GRAND OLD FLAG UP ON THE HIGHEST PEAK, MOUNTAIN OR HILL ON WHATEVER ATOLL IT HAPPENS TO LAND ON. GOOD LUCK AND GOD-BLESS YOU'ALL, Signed- VIV." He claimed to have received a letter from Iwo Jima, accompanied by prints of Jack Rosenthal's famous photograph for the Associated Press, stating that the flag planted by Marines atop Mount Suribachi was one of the flags Vivian had placed in a piece of ordnance equipment at the Richmond Tank Depot.

Vivian also tried to boost the morale of his fellow workers in Richmond by writing notes to accompany the bundles of periodicals and asking the soldiers and service-women who found the notes to write back. Then he would distribute the letters he received. Here is a sample recorded in one of Capt. Spiker's montiily histories:

"One of the bundles of magazines which you sent overseas is being put to good use in our club here in Australia. Men on leave from New Guinea, and nurses too, are reading the magazines....Keep up the good work." Margaret Griffin, American Red Cross

"Magazines received. A thousand thanks from happy Yanks." CpL I. Horning from the Pacific

"These bundles were distributed by us to the Red Cross installation and Army and Navy hospitals in this area. The boys are so hungry for home town news and American magazines of any kind, that our office has been flooded by servicemen, both Army and Navy and even men from the American Transport Service, who have found that they are here and have tried to borrow them. As far as they go, we have filled all requests....I want to thank each and every one of you for the fine spirit displayed in doing this service for the fighting forces....I also want to add that good services like this are too few. Yours is one of the first that I have run across in my two years of overseas service and since I have been in all the forward areas, as well as the bases in the rear, I am speaking from experience and sincerely express my gratitude for this type of service..." Lee Morrow, Area Director of Recreation, American National Red Cross, SouthPacific and Southwest Pacific

"If you've ever been alone, and out of no where a friend came in, you'll know how the books were received here in the bush of Australia." "Yanks down under"

"Were you here to see the faces of our nurses when your magazines were delivered, you would feel amply repaid for the effort put forth in procuring same. For the majority of us it was the first opportunity we have had to read, yes, even see a Good Housekeeping, McCalls, Cosmopolitan or Ladies' Home Journal for many long months. Needless to say, they were snatched up very eagerly and they will pass through many hands, I assure you." Chief nurse of a service hospital in France

"You'll never know just how pleasant was the surprise that the men of this installation had upon opening a water-proofed Armored Car M-8 yesterday and finding your bundle of magazines." An Ordnance gang of twenty men in Italy

The last of the letters bore the date 29 September 1944 and referred to a bundle bearing the date 21 July 1944. The fact that only two months separated placing the bundle in a vehicle and a group of soldiers writing a letter back to Richmond is testimony to how quickly vehicles were shipped overseas to the theatres of the war once they had been readied for shipment at Richmond.

Those who received the bundles were not only appreciative of the periodicals, as the following quote demonstrates:

"We can safely say that RTD [Richmond Tank Depot] has a much better record for equipment arriving in good shape than any other Depot we've received equipment from; and don't think that isn't very vital when time is very short." Somewhere in the Pacific

Some of the letters Vivian and his crew received were from servicemen who were also members of UAW Local No. 560, which represented the Ford workers at the Richmond Tank Depot. Those servicemen were also appreciative of the fact that the local sent them issues of the Richmond plant's shop paper. One soldier thanked the local for sending him the paper, which "keeps us informed of the home front we are fighting to defend."

In July 1945, Vivian and his boilerhouse gang folded the 8' x 12' American flag that had flown over the Richmond Tank Depot for 3-1/2 years and placed it, accompanied by a letter and a poem, in an M8 armored car bound for the Pacific theatre. The letter explained to whoever unpacked the flag how much the Ford workers at tiie Richmond Tank Depot loved it, that it represented their "high-spirited efforts in helping to win this terrible war," and that the Richmond workers hoped that the victorious American soldiers and Marines would be able to fly that particular flag atop the tallest flagpole in Tokyo. The poem expressed in verse Vivian's and his fellow workers' patriotism and their commitaient to the cause for which the U.S. fought in the war.

Frank Vivian was the member of UAW Local 560 with the most seniority at the Richmond branch, having started with the Ford Motor Company in 1913. Ford put him in charge of the assembly line at the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. He continued with Ford at its San Francisco branch until the company opened its Richmond branch 1939, and Vivian moved there with the company. He again participated in Ford's exhibit at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, located on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. The landscaping there inspired Vivian to develop gardens around the power plant at the Richmond plant. During the war, he converted those gardens to Victory Gardens, planting vegetables instead of flowers. Ever the loyal Ford employee, he also wrote a March 1944 letter to Adm. Emory S. Land of the Maritime Commission recommending that one of the Liberty ships being built at the nearby Kaiser shipyards in Richmond be named for Edsel Ford, who had recently died while president of the Ford Motor Company. Land responded to Vivian, writing that the Maritime Commission had intended to give Edsel Ford's name to a Liberty ship built at Savannah, Georgia, because the Ford family had a country home nearby, but the Ford family asked that a ship not be named for him. For his enthusiastic efforts on a variety of fronts, Vivian was a frequent subject of newspaper articles and favorable reports by army officers.

The Richmond Tank Depot also mounted periodic War Bond Drives. In November 1944, the plant held its sixth drive, dividing Ford personnel into seven groups and setting a quota for each, with the total for the plant set at $124,950. Within three days, the employees in every group had exceeded their quotas, and UAW Local 560 purchased an additional $1,075 in War Bonds. Total collected at the plant for that drive was $142,185. Enthusiasm for War Bonds was not always high, however. During the seventh drive in June 1945, the Richmond plant barely exceeded its quota, and not until after considerable cajoling by Ordnance staff. One explanation for the difficulty in meeting the quota was that many employees, who might otherwise have purchased bonds, quit before the drive, while new hires had already purchased bonds as individuals.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945, a Thursday. His successor, Harry S. Truman, asked that all plants engaged in war production continue full work schedules, holding any commemorative services either Saturday or Sunday. Workers at the Richmond Tank Depot paused for five minutes of silence twice on Saturday, April 14, once during the day shift at 10:00 am and once during the evening shift at 5:00 pm, to honor their fallen president.

May 8th was V-E Day. The news was broadcast at 6:00 am Pacific time. Most of the day-shift production workers at the Richmond Tank Depot did not hear the news immediately because they were in transit to work, which began at 6:30 am. V-E Day evolved as a normal work day, because there was still a war to be won in the Pacific. Ordnance and Ford employees expressed any jubilation they may have felt without taking time off from work. By early August, Japan's surrender appeared imminent. To avoid any celebratory damage to property owned by the government or the Ford Motor Company, Ordnance and Ford management posted notices on a plant bulletin board that a plant holiday would begin as soon as news of the end of hostilities arrived. In an August 10th telegram. Colonel Harmon of the San Francisco Ordnance District authorized the Richmond Tank Depot to pay all workers sent home on the anticipated V-J Day for a full shift. There were 379 workers at the Richmond Tank Depot during the night shift of August 14th, when news of Japan's surrender arrived, at which time those workers were sent home. All 1,138 employees working on Ordnance contracts then received a two-day holiday.