Louis Fairchild. They Called It the War Effort: Oral Histories from World War II Orange, Texas. Denton: Texas State Historical Association, 2012. xxxviii + 507 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-87611-250-2.
Reviewed by Nancy J. Traylor-Heard (Mississippi State University)
Published on H-War (June, 2016)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
In the second edition of They Called It the War Effort: Oral Histories from WWII Orange, Texas, Louis Fairchild uses oral histories to explore the changing community of Orange, Texas, during World War II. Fairchild asserts that the war transformed Orange from a sleepy southern town to a bustling boomtown that would quickly disappear with the end of the war. Rather than supporting his claim with a traditional narrative, he meticulously arranges the oral history interviews of Orange wartime residents. Even so, he offers evidence to understand the impact of war on a diverse group of people.
Fairchild organizes the oral histories based on a number of factors, including inside-verses-outside status, age, gender, occupation, and wartime activities. First, he establishes the tensions between those who had lived in Orange their entire lives and the newcomers. Some of the establishment resented the new families moving in, and many of the new shipbuilders and their families felt unwelcome. The heart of the study examines the experiences of children, teenagers, women, and African Americans during the war. Fairchild asserts that the war created positive changes in these groups’ lives. However, he notes that while African Americans did gain access to new jobs and neighborhoods, the improvements were only “modest” (p. 237). Finally, he analyzes certain occupations and community services in Orange. This section shows the different perspectives about Orange from shipyard management and the shipyard workers. Some of the management saw Orange as parochial town, while some rural shipyard workers believed the town was a huge city. The business owners in town tried to accommodate all of these groups to make the largest profit. By examining his oral histories, Fairchild concludes simply that with all the differences experienced by the residents, the people encountered changes that allowed for “hybridization” or “the crossbreeding of ideas, values, and lifestyles” (p. 445).
Fairchild’s most intriguing dialogue with his interviewees is the discussion of the transitions brought forth by the war effort. Some of the changes in wartime Orange were more obvious than others. For instance, Alpha Burdine remembers going to school during the war and reflects, “I don’t know how the teachers taught anything, and I think some of the teachers resented such an influx coming in. And it was not stable” (p. 82). The schools had so many students that they had to hold class in the hallways. Another shift in Orange was women working in industrial settings. Fairchild notes that many women worked in agriculture jobs and at home before the war, but the war opened up more job opportunities for women. The war revitalized the town by creating new neighborhoods and businesses, but the growth in population often put stress on the public health and welfare infrastructure. Overall, some of the changes were permanent, while others, such as overcrowded schools, faded as the war ended. Fairchild hints at the decline of Orange after the war, but the oral histories do not address the postwar years.
Fairchild crafts a rich local history based on a strong foundation of oral histories. Those interested in East Texas would gain insight into Orange during World War II, while a general readership would learn more about boomtowns and the World War II home front. American historians would benefit from reading this work to understand more about the effects of World War II on civilian life. Fairchild uses limited secondary resources to back up his research; however, the oral histories he uses do uphold traditional home front historiography. Scholars could learn about how to frame questions for oral interviews from Fairchild’s book. He upholds his basic contention that the war created changes in boomtown Orange.
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Nancy J. Traylor-Heard. Review of Fairchild, Louis, They Called It the War Effort: Oral Histories from World War II Orange, Texas.
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