Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

By William M. Tuttle Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4 Homefront Families on the Move

"FORD WILL Build Plane Plant Here," boomed the eight-column headline on February 20, 1941, in the Ypsilanti (Michigan) Press. The plant, to be named Willow Run, would be located thirty miles west of Detroit in southeastern Michigan. The next month, bulldozers began clearing the flat fields. Soon the factory took shape, "a huge sprawling upthrust of red I-beams and endless windows." Within weeks, access highways and a railroad spur from the main line of the New York Central appeared, along with acres of parking lots and a mile-long airfield. By Christmas time--even though the I-beams at the east end of Willow Run were still open to the wind--production workers began filling the plant, ready to build B-24 Liberator bombers. Willow Run became the largest plant in the world: the main building covered 67 acres, while the airport spread over an additional 1,434 acres and had six runways. The first B-24 rolled out of the plant on September 10, 1942, and by war's end Willow Run had produced 8,685 airplanes. At its height the plant turned out one bomber every 63 minutes. 1

Between 1940 and April 1944, some 200,000 people moved into the four counties of the Detroit-Willow Run production region. Almost half of these migrants--97,477, to be precise--were children under age ten. Migrants came from the southern Appalachians and from the Deep South. Many also came from farms and small towns across Michigan and from both peninsulas of the state. The daily work force, zero in 1941, peaked at 42,331 in June 1943. 2

One family of newcomers, the Castles--John, Evelyn, and their seven-year-old son Tommy--drove to Willow Run in the fall of 1942 from a town in central Michigan. Unable to find rental housing within forty miles of the plant, they instead bought an 18-foot house trailer. "Arrived here about eight o'clock this morning in the rain!" Evelyn Castle wrote in her diary. "Drove miles, it seemed, to find a park.... Finally found this place with a vacancy. It is easy to understand why there was a vacancy as we are parked in a water-hole with mud all around. 'Muddy Lane,' we call it." While John found work as an inspector at the bomber

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