The necessities of World War II created thousands of new jobs, soldiers, airmen, sailors, assembly line workers, and out-of-the-ordinary occupations like the pigeoneer. Approximately 3,150 soldiers, not to mention 54,000 pigeons, were part of the U. S. Army Pigeon Service. These pigeons, and the pigeoneers, had an amazing 90% success rate delivering undetected messages. One American pigeon, fittingly named G.I. Joe, delivered a crucial last-second message informing British forces that an Italian village was now under British control. The village was about to be shelled by Allied artillery that could have resulted in over a thousand deaths by friendly fire. The feathered G.I. Joe received a medal for gallantry.
In today’s technically advanced military, a degree in technology wizardry would be extremely helpful if not required, but during WWII “fundamentals” were the key to victory.
Such was a field artillery sound recorder. Pardon the pun, but the job was “way more important than it sounds.” These G.I.s (not the pigeon) played a critical role in WWII by tracking the origin of enemy gunfire. Sets of microphones were strategically placed along the front lines, an undertaking that presented its own dangers and had its origins in WWI, but by WWII “sound-ranging” had developed into such a cutting-edge technology that the ranging teams could actually distinguish the enemy weapon being used based on the shape of their sound waves. This kind of information saved lives and was indispensable in the heat of battle.
Would you like to be a balloon rigger? If you lived in the vicinity of the Soo Locks that run along the border of Lake Superior and Lake Huron, “balloon riggers” may have put your property and home in harm’s way. “Barrage Balloons,” stationary balloons tethered with steel cables, were utilized during WWII to ward off or manipulate air attacks. The British used thousands of the balloons to frustrate German fighters and bombers. However, as important as the Soo Locks were to American and Canadian authorities, the locks were never attacked by enemy aircraft. The balloons did, however, accidentally explode and blow out windows in the vicinity, plus breaking free from time to time and crashing into private property.
Smoke generator operators played an important part in WWII. “Smoke screens” were used extensively in WWI to confuse an adversary during a sea battle, but in WWII the technology was especially useful to confuse attacking aircraft as well as enemy combat ships. A smoke generator operator not only kept the smoke generator humming, but also had to take into account the weather and wind. American smoke screen technology in WWII found its origins in New Orleans. Alonzo C. Patterson, a well-known bootlegger during Prohibition, utilized his smoke screens to keep the police from finding his rum-running boats.
Dog trainer. Dog lovers would find no love for the Russians in WWII. Our Communist allies used dogs to carry explosives to German tanks, then once in position the Russian soldiers would detonate the explosives, sending the tank to hell and the dog to the Rainbow Bridge. The United States K-9 Corps, fortunately, was much more humane with man’s best friend. Many of the dogs included family pets donated by patriotic Americans to aid in the war effort. American dogs performed a more traditional military role for canines: detecting mines and booby-traps, they carried messages (much like the pigeon, G.I. Joe), transported supplies, and sniffed out enemy positions. One heroic canine, Chips, earned a Silver Star for heroism and a Purple Heart. The sourpusses at the War Department, however, eventually ruled Chips as “ineligible” since dogs were classified as “equipment.” William Putney, an American combat dog handler during the war, stated, “Our dogs and their trainers had one of the most dangerous jobs in WWII. We had to be in front of the troops, exposed, and in constant danger.” Our canine allies played an important role during the D-Day Invasion; they parachuted into France alongside British troops.
Comparable to the video games kids enjoy today, link celestial navigation trainer operators prepared aircrews for battle with an odd but clever device that combined up-to-date (for the era) projector technology and flight simulation. The CNT (celestial navigation trainer) was basically a flight simulator housed in an air-conditioned silo (which drew no complaints from the airmen in training). Terrain was projected on the screen to replicate a daytime appearance or stars to imitate night. The CNT trainer could even change the weather as the crews took aim at their targets.
Artist needed: Well, you ain’t gonna be painting pretty scenes, that’s for sure. No Rembrandts allowed. You’ll be sketching or designing to save lives, short and simple. The success of battles and outcomes of missions sometimes hinged on the abilities of artists. American artists designed some of the most ingenious decoys of the Second World War, fake armies, fake tanks and artillery, rubber trucks, and other curiosities that bewildered German intelligence. The best known deception was Operation Fortitude when artists convinced German intelligence the allied invasion of France would occur near Pas-de-Calais rather than the Caen-Cotentin region of Normandy. The U.S. Army even stationed artists and soldiers at Walt Disney’s studios to make patriotic films for the public and training films for the military.
Blacksmith: Millions of horses served in WWI, but by WWII the horse and mule had been replaced by modern machinery. Still, tens of thousands of mounts and stubborn mules saw service. Thus, blacksmiths were needed to make shoes for the steeds, plus make many items needed to repair machinery and other mechanical parts. And they did it the old-fashioned way: by hand, or in coke or coal forges.
Horse breaker: I prefer the term horse wrangler — sounds more humane. The cowboys of WWII trained horses and mules to be issued to mounted units. They carried packs, supplies, or were hitched to carts and wagons. How important a role did these animals play in winning the war? A long range patrol group in the mountains of Burma, the 5332nd Brigade, survived and was self-sufficient due to the 3,000 mules assigned to it. The mules were all American, shipped from the United States.
Meat cutter: They cut meat. End of description.
Ya wanna grind crystals? Many WWII radios still used crystals, usually galena. Crystal grinders would grind and calibrate the crystals to pick up certain frequencies. Personal radios were barred from the front lines, but crystal radios, due to lacking external power sources, couldn’t be detected by the enemy. Therefore, troops would improvise crystal radios from various sources (pencils, even razor blades) so they could listen to the news and play music. These homemade devices were called “foxhole radios.”
Need a cooper? Not a Mini-Cooper, a real cooper. Coopers built and repaired wooden barrels, kegs, casks, and wooden buckets used to store and ship supplies. They plugged holes and salvaged damaged barrels. Wood barrels saw extensive use during WWII, but eventually metal and cardboard boxes marked the end for wooden crates and barrels.
Model maker: No, not a New York model, but a model maker of scale models for films and training purposes. Models for pre-invasion planning and instruction were common in the Pacific, as well as deception devices used in Europe.
Airplane woodworker. Huh? Wood airplanes in WWII. Are we talking about the flying coffins in WWI or the modern fighters of WWII? Wood? You bet’cha. Woodworkers were required for existing aircraft, like trainers and gliders. Gliders, especially. Made of wood and fabric, the gliders played a critical role in the war: the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, D-Day on June 6, 1944, and the infamous Operation Market Garden (A Bridge Too Far) in September of 1944. The gliders also saw service in the CBI Theater (China-Burma-India).
Playwright: Yep, Hollywood got a big piece of the action. Nine American playwrights played a big part in WWII, including the Marvel architect Stan Lee, Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Wiliam Saroyan, master director Frank Capra, and the one and only Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss). These talented men put their skills to use writing training films, training manuals, and even the unglamorous job of pamphlets on how to avoid venereal disease. Uh, just say no?
Bandsman. After Pearl Harbor, the War Department scrambled to train about 500 bands deemed necessary for the war effort. An emergency Army Music School was founded, and the bands played on. Playing in a band. Wow, what a cushy and safe way to fight a major war. Not quite. A few minutes before 0800 on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the 21 band members of the USS Arizona were poised to play the invigorating notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” as Old Glory was hoisted. Suddenly, the bombs and torpedoes of the Japanese air armada began to fall on the sleepy anchorage at Pearl Harbor. The Arizona’s band ran to battle stations, mostly as ammo handlers and ferrying gunpowder. At 0806, the last bomb to hit the Arizona pierced the deck near Turret II and exploded six seconds later near the forward magazines. The Arizona blew apart. Among the dead were all 21 members of the Arizona band. Band members also guarded supplies during WWII or replaced troops on the front lines. Members of the 28th Infantry Division Band took up arms during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. Of the 60 band members, 46 were killed in action.
Airmen, soldier, sailor, marine — no matter the job, when the enemy is at the gate you grab your weapon, not a trombone.