Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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March 1943


Civilian defense organizations afforded ordinary citizens who otherwise could contribute to the war effort only peripherally the opportunity to participate officially. While their efforts were supervised generally by federal and state offices, councils operated virtually autonomously at the county, city, and township levels of local government in Illinois. Statewide local civilian defense councils numbered 640. They in turn enlisted hundreds of thousands of individuals who volunteered their time and energies to winning the war on the home front. With little or no outside funding local councils organized their communities to withstand aerial attacks and prevent enemy sabotage. The United States had been at war for fifteen months in March 1943. None of the forty-eight states had been attacked from the air and reports of enemy sabotage were few. American soldiers were making substantial progress in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and Allied convoys were winning the Battle of the Atlantic. Increasingly local defense councils turned to proactive means. The emphasis on citizen defense gave way to citizen service in the areas of victory gardens, nutritious eating, war bond and stamp purchases, salvage drives, rationing, and conservation.

The Rockford Emergency Medical and Red Cross Services had the distinction of having the first mobile operating room in Illinois. A local funeral home donated an old hearse for this purpose. The city's main war industries were tool making and the production of precision parts for planes and ships. Borg-Warner manufactured universal joints and J. I. Case made wings for B-26 Martin Marauders.

Points to Consider

Organizationally was the emphasis placed on citizens' defense or citizens' service? Why?

Had you lived as an adult in Rockford at this time and had you been ineligible for the armed forces, where in this organization would you have preferred to have served? Why?

Why did the Rockford Council as well as all other civilian defense councils maintain a separate women's division?

Are there any traces of civilian defense measures from the WWII period or after visible in your community today?

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