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World War II: Bits and pieces from Laurel’s history

For the Laurel Leader

While researching stories from Laurel's past, I accumulate lots of brief, and sometimes odd, items that don't lend themselves to the usual long form. In light of last week's 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, this story focuses on life in Laurel during World War II.

1941

In March, the Laurel Military Recreation Center, which was financed and operated by Laurel residents with assistance from the Works Progress Administration, opened in the Laurel Armory. The center closed in 1942 when the USO Club on Lafayette Avenue opened.

In September, the Prince George's County health officer announced that infantile paralysis, or polio, had reached "epidemic form," but declined to postpone the opening of schools for the new school year. Laurel reported six cases.

In October, the Laurel Welfare Association was absorbed by the Community Chest and no longer functioned as a separate entity. Formed during the Great Depression, the Welfare Association helped those in need from the Laurel community with food and dry goods. During the war there was also a Loan Closet that provided clothes, bedding and medical supplies to people in need who were referred by a public health nurse, county physician or social worker.

In December, City Ordinance 331 was adopted, which authorized the mayor to make rules for dealing with enemy attacks by air, land or sea, and provided penalties for violations. The city held blackout drills and Laurel residents were required to cloak all windows with dark curtains, while street lights and car headlights were extinguished to foil enemy aircraft.

1942

In January, the new USO building on Lafayette Avenue was dedicated, the first USO center in Maryland. Longtime Laurel resident Lorraine Miller took the train to Washington, D.C., because gas was rationed, and went to the USO club where she signed up to volunteer and went through five nights of training. The training was conducted by the Girls Service Organization (GSO), which required membership of all women volunteering at the USO. The training included the do's and don'ts of interacting with soldiers. According to Miller, "We weren't allowed to leave with the soldiers but that didn't mean we couldn't meet for coffee later at the Little Tavern." Miller worked five nights a week at the Laurel USO and said she was "thrilled" with the dances.

"There were always lots of soldiers to dance with," she said, and lots of local girls attending. There was entertainment every night, and the club was always packed. It was at one of the dances she met her future husband, Eddie. He cut in on another soldier dancing with her and complimented her hair.

The USO building was donated to American Legion Post 60 in 1946.

In April, responding to a request from the Laurel Lions Club and American Legion Post 60 for more security during World War II, the cupola at the top of old Laurel High School on Montgomery Street was converted to an air raid observation post. More than 50 Laurel residents took turns working two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, standing lookout for enemy planes. Airplane identification posters were posted in the tower and a phone was installed to sound the alert if enemy planes were spotted. Then-Laurel Mayor Edward Tolson published a full-page "official notice" in the Leader with the "Rules and regulations applying to air raid warnings and blackouts."

In May 1942, the chairman of the Committee on Human Resources and Skills of the Maryland Council of Defense claimed that women are responding slowly to the needs of the war industries. "Up to the present, their responses to a clearly stated need for additional man-power have been unsatisfactory," he said. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Civil Service Commission lowered the age limit for stenographers and typists to 16 if they lived within commuting distance of Washington. This change was issued to make available a greater number of local office workers to fill the need for stenographers and typists in government service without affecting the housing situation.

In June, Mrs. J. Maynard Linthicum began serving free Sunday suppers to soldiers from Fort Meade at the USO on Lafayette Avenue. She spent weekdays raising funds for the suppers and Sundays supervising a crew of volunteers to prepare and serve the food. Linthicum came by her service naturally. During World War I, she sponsored Red Cross dances for the Camp Meade soldiers at Phar Oaks, her father's estate in Laurel.

In July, gas ration books were distributed to Laurel residents at Laurel High School.

In August, the Baltimore Sun described the life faced by Army wives living in Laurel. Housing was very hard to find, as was child care. Capt. Edward Grubin's wife told the paper that it was "practically impossible to find anyone in Laurel to tend" her 5-month old. She said "The young girls have all taken jobs in war industries or work in stores that cater to soldiers."

In September, Laurel High School participated in the nationwide School Salvage Army, with the goal of moving salvage from American homes to war plants. The students went door-to-door collecting donations of metal or rubber.

In October, the Leader began a new column, "Our Boys," which reported on Laurel residents serving in the armed forces. It became a popular communication between the servicemen and their friends.

Also in October, the chief air raid warden for Prince George's County issued a warning for citizens about fraudulent organizations soliciting funds for unauthorized air raid shelters. This was in response to some crooks passing themselves off as representatives of a defense organization.

1943

In June, the News Leader reported that "indignation has been expressed from several quarters relative to the fact that young women have been requested not to appear on the streets in shorts. There is no regulation prohibiting such wearing apparel, and if these women were approached in a manner indicative of the fact that they were violating a law, there is reason for their indignation. However, acting on advice received from military authorities, local policemen are requesting that young women and girls in the teen ages refrain from appearing on the street in garb that is bound to invite the attention of certain members of the armed forces with whom Laurel is so peopled."

In August, the Washington Star reported that the government's area rent-control director was about to crack down on widespread rent-gouging of servicemen and their wives by Laurel residents. The Star report said that rents in Laurel were going to be pushed back 40 percent from the average $12 to $10 a week. "That was a pretty harsh statement to make about a little town trying to do its patriotic duty," Mayor Edward Tolson was quoted as saying in a Baltimore Sun story that followed. "The people of Laurel have opened their homes to servicemen's wives because they think it is patriotic and because they pity them and not to get rich on them." The government denied it was planning any crackdown.

1944

In April, Pfc. Edith Gardner replaced a soldier as yardmaster at Fort Meade's railroad yards and became the first woman in the country to hold that job.

In June, seven men from Laurel participated in the D-Day landing as part of the Army's 29th Infantry Division. The soldiers were F. Miemeitz, James Morningstar, Capt. Lawton Jones, Charles C. Tuttle, Harold B. Lawson, Thomas Quinn and Jack Beall, who was wounded in the landing and returned to Laurel.

In October, Laurel High School held an assembly in honor of Navy Day. After the students sang "Anchors Away," they paid tribute to the Marines and Coast Guard by singing their hymns. Then the classes competed in a quiz about the Navy. The winner was senior John McClure, who was awarded four war stamps.

History Matters is a monthly feature rediscovering Laurel's past. Do you have an item to add? Contact Kevin Leonard at 301-776-9260 or info@theleonardgroupinc.com.

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