Veterans Day is a national holiday set aside November 11, to honor all who have served or are serving in the U.S. military. Often confused with Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor all who have died during a war in which the U.S. was involved. It was first observed in 1921, and started out as Armistice Day in commemoration of those who served in the First World War. The name change occurred during Eisenhower’s presidency so as to also include veterans from World War II. Also known as Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, it marks the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities between Germany and the allies of England, France and the United States, which occurred November 11, 1918, at 11am.
In honor of Veterans Day, I’ve chosen this action-packed, official World War II Army photograph that is amongst a collection recently donated to the museum from the archives of Josephine Cowell, who authored the book Benicia Arsenal. Note the official Benicia Arsenal stamp on the bottom right and the word “restricted,” bottom left. Taken in August of 1942, it shows the Benicia Arsenal dock where civilian stevedores are loading small arms ammunition, and transferring 500-pound bombs directly from the rail cars onto transport ships. Although official, it is not posed, and captures a feeling of urgent, organized industry—perhaps this is why I find it so fascinating—the intense “you are there” quality leaps from the page.
Based on the information we have, this picture probably would have been taken by a uniformed photographer who would also have been employed to produce the hundreds of publicly released “propaganda” photos that fueled the powerful American media blitz that contributed so much to the war effort here and abroad. The Museum is in possession of many of these publicity and other photos that form a marvelous visual record of the Arsenal products produced, repaired, packed and shipped from Benicia as well as images of the men and women who worked here, civilians and officers alike. The Museum is currently preparing its World War II Benicia Arsenal exhibit, A Call to Arms—Benicia Arsenal in WWII, scheduled for spring of 2015. We would very much appreciate hearing from those who can lend us any of those family photos, documents, manuals, uniforms and other artifacts to illustrate and personalize this important story about Benicia’s own Arsenal contributions to American history. I can’t think of a better way to honor our veterans and our own Arsenal’s heroic role in World War II.