The materials gathered in the Life During Wartime collection speak to the effects of war on the citizens of Des Plaines, Illinois: those who served in the military as well as those who remained on the home front. The collection draws heavily from the papers of Gloria Mau, a lifelong resident of Des Plaines and an active supporter of the war effort during World War II. Also of note is a facsimile of World War II Remembrances, Walter A. Pomper's account of his tour with the 555th Engineer Heavy Pontoon Battalion. The collection also contains materials related to World War I, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, the U. S. war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War (2003-2011). Visit our What's New? section to watch Videos related to the Life During Wartime collection.
Materials relating to Des Plaines veterans, including letters, newspaper articles, photographs, yearbook photographs, rosters, and documentation of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall memorial exhibit in Des Plaines, 1988. Photographs of and letters written by German POWs detained at the Camp Pine prisoner-of-war camp. Photographs, newspaper articles and ephemera related to the Douglas Aircraft plant and production of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster Army transport plane. Letters, newsletters and ephemera documenting the wartime activities of individuals and organizations on the home front.
Des Plaines benefitted from the wartime economy during the Second World War. Light manufacturing companies, like the Benjamin Electric Company, pivoted to manufacturing military equipment needed by the Allies. The Douglas Aircraft Company had a significant and long lasting effect on the city, providing employment for hundreds of women and men (with onsite daycare for the children of employees) and sparking a small housing boom. There was even a United Motor Coach bus line dedicated to transporting workers to and from the Douglas Aircraft plant.
Douglas Aircraft manufactured the C-54 Skymaster, a long-range transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces in World War II and the Korean War. Douglas continued to produce the C54 Skymaster at its Orchard Place Douglas Field plant for a time after the war. The Douglas plant eventually became the site of O'Hare International Airport.
In 1945, the students of Maine Township High School successfully completed a fundraising drive to raise $500,000 in war bonds, in order to have a C54 Skymaster cargo aircraft named the "Maine Flyer." The Maine Flyer is the subject of the documentary film Faster and Higher: Celebrating Maine's Flyer, produced by students at Maine East High School in 2015.
Like many Midwestern communities, a large number of German immigrants settled in Des Plaines. Some German-Americans maintained German Nationalist sympathies up until the U.S. entry into World War II, as demonstrated in a few letters written by Astrid Dagenbach to her friend, Gloria Mau. For example, in her letter dated April 28, 1939, Astrid praises Adolf Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag, broadcast on the radio on the same date, and several other letters from this period sign off with “Hail Hitler.”
Camp Pine in Des Plaines was home to about two hundred German prisoners of war (POWs) during the end of World War II (1945-1946). The POWs, including a young German named Rudolf Velte, were put to work on the farm of Eugene Carl, Pesche’s greenhouse, and other local farms. Despite their status as prisoners, the Germans were held on a loose rein, and many of them formed close, lifelong bonds with German-Americans in the area. For more information, see WBEZ Chicago public radio programs Hosting the enemy: Our WWII POW camps and Why Rudolf Velte returned 50 years later, by Edie Rubinowitz.