Prelude to war: News from the homefront


After the terrible years of the Great Depression, business was booming on the Kitsap Peninsula thanks to the Puget Sound Navy Yard and Keyport Naval Torpedo Station. In 1940, the unemployment rate was 6.9 percent — compared to 16.8 percent in cities around Puget Sound.

While the business of war may have been good for business, not everyone favored the U.S. involvement in the War in Europe.There were those, for example, who opposed the proposed Lend Lease Act:


“Regardless of the merits or demerits of the bill, it is universally admitted that it is sure to pass and become law, and just why this silly noise should be made and the equally nonsensical ‘demonstrations’ by a bunch of notoriety seeking women, who have been named by a local wit as ‘Hitler’s Hags,’ should continue is something that is hard to explain. “−March 1941, Kitsap County Herald.

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Home prices rose as more and more people moved into the county and housing became so scarce that people joked about renting outhouses as apartments. When you look at the following ad, remember that the minimum wage was 25 cents an hour:


“20 acres land: 3-room house; some land cleared; spring water on place. Price $1,650.”— March 1941, Kitsap County Herald.


“During the turbulence of early 1941 — the world in flames, the nation moving to war footing, the city bursting with new residents, and the Navy Yard working three shifts per day, seven days per week — what most excited Bremerton’s adolescents?

“Easy question: On Saturday night, March 22, Bremerton High School won the state basketball championship. We were euphoric.”— From the book, “Victory Gardens and Barrage Balloons,” by Frank Wetzel.

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In 1941, you could buy a new Nash automobile for $995. Flush workers went on a car-buying binge as they had to commute further and further to work.


“A new State Patrol man has been assigned to Kitsap County, George Keithahn, formerly stationed in Yakima … Keithahn will reside in Shelton because of the crowded housing conditions in the county.

“Lemolo Log: An old truck turned over on the road near the church, late Friday afternoon. Fortunately no one was hurt.— April 1941, Kitsap County Herald.


In 1941, the local paper functioned much as Facebook does today. Consider these news items from April 1941:

“Mr. Jack Dunlap, an employee of the Navy Yard, is now making his home in Kingston.”

“The Priscilla Chapter of the Eastern Star had installation Tuesday evening in Port Gamble.”

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Social Security increases were a hot-button issue, with conservatives linking it to communism.


“The Communists get a big boost in a recent issue of a Seattle paper, when that publication gives them … credit for the old age pension bill which raised the monthly allowance from $30 to $40 … It repeatedly refers to the bill as ‘Communist sponsored Initiative 141.’ … Some of the old people who have been placed in poverty by legislation and other circumstances will feel grateful to the sponsors of this bill … which gave them an offset to the increase in the cost of living that has swept the country since the start of defense activities.”— April 1941, Kitsap County Herald.

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Sometimes, the war struck close to home.


“A ship carrying pilots enlisted in the Canadian Air Force was torpedoed in the Atlantic, claiming the lives of twelve American pilots, one of who was James C. Torpey, 31, of Silverdale.

“Torpey and his companions were on their way to Great Britain … Torpey, who is the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Torpey of Silverdale, had written his parents from St. John, Newfoundland, that he had signed a one-year contract … and there would be no danger but a ‘wonderful experience.’”—April 1941, Kitsap County Herald.

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September 1941: Puget Sound Navy Yard’s Fiftieth Anniversary went uncelebrated due to the war effort and increased security. — From “Victory Gardens and Barrage Balloons.”