May 10, 2018

World War II in Sanders County

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Projects Librarian

Nameplate of the Sanders County Independent-Ledger, December 3, 1941
If you’ve ever looked at newspapers published during either world war, you know that typically newspapers become consumed by war news, most of it consisting of national coverage by entities like AP, instead of locally or even state produced news. While the Sanders County Independent-Ledger did have some national coverage, most of the 8 pages per issue remained focused on how the war affected Sanders County.
  
Sanders County Independent-Ledger, December 10, 1941, p1
I expected the Pearl Harbor attack to be the major headline in the issue following the attack, but there were no screaming headlines and only one direct reference: a proclamation by the County Commissioners declaring “ourselves in behalf of the people of this county, State of Montana, to be wholeheartedly in support of our government and will do everything in our power and capacity to repel, defeat and crush the enemy…” [1] There were two other articles related to the consequences of the attack. One called “Defense Steps” talked about a report written in late October or early November which concluded that while enemy bombing of Sanders County was unlikely, sabotage was a concern, especially the possibility that enemy agents could set forest fires thereby creating “a serious hazard to airplane operations” [2] and destroying the timber supply. To defend against this threat, another article informed readers that “The office of the Sanders County Defense Commission will be held open from 9:00 A. M. until 8:00 P. M. for the purpose of registering men for Guard Service in Sanders County, bridges, power lines, etc.” [3] After a little thought, it occurred to me that this issue was published on December 10, by which point most people had probably heard details about the attack from the radio so why would the newspaper spend precious space telling their readers what they already knew?
Sanders County Independent-Ledger, May 20, 1942, p5
With this local focus in mind, even the ads from national organizations seemed more targeted. There was a map (above) of the Official U. S. Treasury War Bond Quotas for May 1942 showing the amount to be raised by each Montana county. Meanwhile, the War Production Board focused their scrap metal drives on heavy farm equipment. Check out the bottom of this ad (below) where we learn what a tractor, a plow, a stove and a pump were each turned into.
Sanders County Independent-Ledger, June 9, 1943, p5
From how rubber and gas rationing was affecting business to the farm labor shortage, this paper - instead of just announcing regulations and orders - reported their consequences on the community. Still the country was at war, so of particular interest were the local boys serving in the armed forces. “If you are one of our subscribers and your son earns promotion let us know about it so we can mention him with the rest of the boys whom we are proud of” declared the newspaper. [4] Not only did they print draft registrations, enlistments, commissions, and promotions, as the war continued, letters written by the soldiers, sailors and airmen were printed. Occasionally these communications included poetry, my personal favorite being this one by Dave Grant.

 Sanders County Independent-Ledger, January 6, 1943, p1
Newspapers provide a glimpse into another time, and that view is never more powerful than when they show how big events impact their local communities.

[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid

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