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The attack across the globe that hit hard here at home

"The British 75 millimeter First World War field Cannon that was placed in front of the County Courthouse was donated for scrap by the Hastings' Nelson-Lucking America Legion Post during the County's 'Victory Scrap Day' in October 1942." (Dakota County Historical Society photo, published in "Picturing the past: events that shaped Dakota County in the Twentieth Century")1 / 2
"The county's youth did their part in winning the Second World War by gathering milkweed pods. Milkweed silk was used as a substitute for kapok in life preservers." (Dakota County Historical Society photo, published in "Picturing the past: events that shaped Dakota County in the Twentieth Century")2 / 2

In October, Americans around the country began a four-year World War II 75th anniversary commemoration, running from Oct. 18, 2016 to Sept. 2, 2020.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened on Dec. 7, 1941, and led the nation into full-fledged war against Germany and its allies, Japan and Italy.

Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed Wednesday, Dec. 7, as World War II 75th Anniversary Commemoration Day.

“It is appropriate to recognize and honor America’s Greatest Generation who, through sacrifice, valor dedication and determination, courageously defended our nation and preserved our freedom,” Dayton stated in his proclamation.

The war — and the attack on Pearl Harbor — affected people across the globe. Hastings, despite its location in the central U.S., was no exception. This week, we take a look at how the war impacted people locally and share some of the local stories that came out of the war.

Global events

While the U.S. didn’t officially join World War II until Pearl Harbor, fighting began more than two years earlier, in September of 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.

In 1940, Germany conquered France, began bombing London (the “Blitz”), allied with Italy and Japan and began herding Polish Jews to the “Warsaw Ghetto.”

Planning for the Pearl Harbor attack began in early 1941. That same year, the U.S. was providing aid to England — as much as possible, in fact, without formally joining the war. It was also the year that Germany invaded the Soviet Union and began the Siege of Leningrad.

Pearl Harbor was not the first U.S. casualty in the war; in October of 1941, the first U.S. warship was sunk by a German submarine in the North Atlantic. On Dec. 7, the infamous attacks on Pearl Harbor occurred. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. That same month, the Japanese also attacked the Philippines, Wake and Guam.

U.S. retaliation in Japan began with bombing raids in April of 1942, and at home, Japanese Americans were forced into “relocation” camps.

The turning point of the war was in June of 1942, when the U.S. defeated Japan at the Battle of Midway. That September brought Japanese fire bombs to the forests of Oregon, the first bombing of the continental U.S. Back in the Soviet Union, winter led to Germany’s 1943 defeat at Stalingrad.

By mid-1943, U.S. and British forces were bombing Germany, and Italy surrendered later that year. June of 1944 brought D-Day on the beaches of Normandy, followed by the liberation of Guam and Paris, and U.S. victory in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

In April of 1945, Benito Mussolini was killed, and Adolf Hitler took his own life; shortly after, Germany surrendered. The U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, causing the Japanese to surrender.

Local efforts leading up to the war

Here in Hastings, the war was cause for new restrictions, rations, new government programs and local efforts to support troops abroad. The bulk of the following information was published in “The Hastings Archives” by Richard B. Darsow.

Impacts here began as early as 1940, when the War Department announced it would restrict visitor access to locks and dams for national security. Men between the ages of 21 and 35 were required to register for the draft starting in mid-October. In Hastings, 549 men were registered at the local draft board. Also in 1940, as defense in Alaska began, the government contracted with a local business, the C.A. Lund Company, for 6,800 pairs of snowshoes and 750 pairs of skis.

The Hastings National Guard mobilized into federal service on Jan. 6, 1941. The mobilization included five officers and 102 men of Battery E, 216th Regiment of the 101st Coast Artillery, Anti Aircraft Brigade. They left Hastings on Jan. 16, 1941, sent off by a crowd of more than 3,000 people.

The effect of Dec. 7

War efforts here began months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, with war bonds being sold at the local post office and scrap aluminum drives being managed by local Boy Scouts. Then came December.

“On December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,” the book reads. “The isolation argument was silenced. World War II has engulfed us.”

The Hastings Star Gazette had a handful of wartime articles in its Dec. 12, 1941, issue. “Draft Board Gets new Orders In Emergency,” read one headline. The orders were to mail all remaining questionnaires and complete classifications of all registrants whose cases were under consideration, as well as to re-examine all cases involving deferred registrants.

“Company D Needs Enlistments to Give Unit Full Strength,” was another headline, calling for an increase of 50 percent of Home Defense units.

“We need a full unit and a solid line on the home front,” Capt. J.W. Kummer of Company D was quoted. “In this crisis men in the deferred classes can and should do their part by joining and quickly bringing the Minnesota Defense Force to full strength.”

The newspaper also reported on local Hastings families who, in the days following the attack, were desperate to hear if the local young men serving in Hawaii were safe.

“The safety of these two men and a number of other Hastings young men in the service of Uncle Sam in the Hawaiian Islands or at sea in that area is causing relatives here many an anxious moment since Japan’s surprise military attack on Pearl Harbor, Sunday,” the newspaper read.

The newspaper’s editorial section noted that the attack was a “stunning surprise,” and “amazing, yet we have had evidences of what was coming for a long time, although we still believed that it was all fiction,” the paper wrote.

The following week, on Dec. 19, 1941, the newspaper had more information to share. An official statement from the Office of Government Reports explained what had happened in the attack: “While its envoys discussed with Secretary of State Hull means of maintaining peace in the Pacific, Japan’s forces attacked the (Dec. 7, 1941) Hawaiian Islands, the Philippines, Wake and Midway Islands, Guam, Hong Kong and Malaya. In the attacks on American possessions there were approximately 3,000 casualties, one battleship and a destroyer were sunk, several other U.S. ships severely damaged and a large number of planes put out of commission.”

The paper also reported messages from local soldiers who sent word to their Hastings families that they were OK. Another headline reported an uptick in local sales of defense bonds, a war fund drive launched by the Red Cross and directions for Selective Service registrants to not seek information from their local draft board.

By the third week after the attack, Dec. 26, 1941, Math C. Karpen was on duty as a civilian guard at the Hastings lock and dam, under orders from the War Department, and local air wardens were forming up.

“A Civil Defense Program was organized in Hastings in December 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor,” according to the Dakota County Historical Society book, “Tales of an Historic Rivertown: 150 Years of Progress and Pride.” “Its purpose was for safety and to guard against disruption of normal activities. An air raid warden was appointed for each block and by Dec. 19 there were 111 wardens with more to follow…”

Efforts through the end of the war

The months that followed brought the organization of a city air raid defense system, as well as rationing. Rations affected tires, passenger cars and light trucks, sugar, gasoline, meat, processed fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese, dairy, coffee and rubber and leather footwear. Local historians say that Hastings did have a flourishing black market.

Police chiefs were ordered to collect all radio transmitting sets, short wave receivers and cameras from Japanese, German and Italian aliens. Scrap metal was collected, including a World War I era British field gun that had been installed on the Dakota County Courthouse lawn. Boy Scouts and 4-H members collected waste paper for recycling. The local draft board started registering men ages 44-64 for possible conscription into armament production. The post office put V (Victory) Mail into effect, reducing the size and weight of letters that could be sent to overseas servicemen. Across Minnesota, a 35 mph speed limit was put into effect and strictly enforced. Housing units were even regulated by the government.

“There were hundreds of volunteers in town, millions nationally, all doing their bit without pay,” according to “Tales of an Historic Rivertown.” “Servicemen were in danger, and here on the home front it was difficult to keep smiling while faced with daily shortages.”

War support efforts continued here over the next few years. Rationing ended shortly after the war ended, extending due to shortages of materials and pent up demand.

On May 7, 1945, Hastings heard the news via radio that Germany had surrendered. By then, only the war in the Pacific was left for U.S. troops. But they didn’t have to wait long.

On Aug. 15, 1945, the U.S. achieved victory over Japan. “At a few minutes after 6 p.m., President Harry Truman made the announcement, and the city began an immediate celebration,” Darsow wrote in his book. “All business ceased, the city fire siren shrieked, horns blew, an impromptu parade of youthful noisemakers roamed downtown Second Street, the City Band met hurriedly in front of the Third Street Armory and played patriotic music, church doors were opened for thanksgiving prayers and people flocked to restaurants and taverns, happy and hilarious, but in good order. Wednesday was observed as a full holiday. Industry, stores, public offices, cafes and gas stations closed in thanksgiving.”

The city erected a war memorial between Eight and Ninth streets on Vermillion Street to honor World War II veterans. In 1949, the monument was redesigned, with the names of 846 veterans’ names chiseled in granite, and installed at Roadside Park.

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