Mansfield had quite a few heroes of WWII who made sacrifices on the battlefields of Europe, Africa and the Pacific.
It also had heroes of WWII who never left town.
The city’s home front heroes were recognized by the United States Army and Navy: pinned with medals, and honored with dignitaries, speeches, music, pomp and ceremony.
The whole event took a little over an hour.
Then they all went back to work.
That was on E-Day, 1943.
WWII was an epic era in which to be alive. There was authentic crisis in every hemisphere and danger of daunting scale on many fronts.
In a time of such universal peril there are a thousand ways to be heroic; which is to say: sacrificing to the larger life of the nation and the free world.
The headlines and the newsreels focused attention on the courageous undertakings of warriors with weapons, so it seemed as if the price of war was being paid on distant battlegrounds.
But everyone knew that was not the whole story. Folks at home were very much aware of what kind of war effort went on every day in Mansfield; how much genuine sacrifice was taking place every day at home and at work.
The US government knew too.
Leaders of the Army and Navy were very aware of how important morale was on this side of the battle, in the production side: providing weapons, machinery, and tools of combat to put into the hands of soldiers.
That was why they devised ways to recognize the heroic effort of folks on the Home Front with medals of war for civilians.
That was how the E Award came to be.
War came suddenly to the US in December of 1941, and by early 1942 the US government was signing contracts with American industries in order to procure all the equipment and materials it needed to pursue the enemy.
It took most of 1942 to change over the Westinghouse Mansfield Works factory from production of ranges and appliances to manufacturing aircraft parts, ammunition casings, gun stabilizers and other war products.
The refrigerator department was retooled to make parts for the Army Air Corps P-47 Thunderbolt planes.
Another appliance space was redesigned into a controlled atmosphere where binoculars could be assembled. The delicately balanced lenses required a dust-free environment, so in addition to air-controlling devices special precautions were taken: women who made binoculars had to come to work in starched white dresses. And they wore no make up.
There was no powdering of noses in the binocular department.
It seems like a small enough sacrifice, but 60 years later it was the one wartime inconvenience that ladies of the 1940s still spoke of.
It required a superhuman effort for Westinghouse to change directions and reestablish momentum so suddenly in 1942, and the effort required by management, labor and all tiers of the company was nothing short of heroic.
So in public acknowledgement of Mansfield Works the US government presented the factory with the famous flag with the big “E” emblazoned on it as a symbol of ‘patriotism in action.’
The ceremony was held in July 1943.
There were 7,500 people there that day, and 60 years later I was able to find two of them. Both of the old folks I spoke with in 2003 had been youngsters on E-Day, so their memories were suitably youthfully oriented:
It was hotter than blazes; and a lot of men in uniforms made long speeches.
There was one redeeming moment however, that was good enough to remember for a lifetime. It had to do with US Navy shipboard fighter planes.
Every boy in Mansfield knew that Westinghouse on Fourth Street made parts and pieces for the US Navy Corsair, and most of them could have told you exactly which parts those were.
Every one of those kids wanted to grow up and fly one of those little planes.
So how thrilling was it when, just before the talk began, a flight of five of those speedy little planes dove out of the sun and buzzed the crowd, wagged their wings, and roared off over Ashland hill.
The proud audience back in 1943 witnessed the E-Day ceremonies standing in a parking lot at the corner of Wayne and Fourth. All that is long gone today. Wayne Street doesn’t even touch Fourth Street any more—it was covered over with factory floor space in a Westinghouse expansion of the 1950s.
Everyone who was a Mansfield Works employee that day received a commemorative booklet and a certificate.
And each of them was awarded a medal from the US Army and Navy. Red, white and blue on sterling silver military laurels was the E for excellence.
As that generation of Mansfielders has been leaving this world, those E pins turn up in the jewelry and cuff links left behind like shells that wash up on the beach as mementos of a proud day long ago.