Monday, May 25, 2015

The WPA and Memorial Day

(Albert Floyd Wright, Jr., of Maryland, died on August 2, 1967 while serving in Vietnam. He had just turned 22. He rests at Annapolis National Cemetery. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(Between 1936 and 1941 the WPA made many improvements to Annapolis National Cemetery. Click here for more details. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(William C. McKee, Jr., of Maryland, died on December 19, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. He was 23 years old. He rests at Antietam National Cemetery. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(WPA workers performed a great amount of work at Antietam National Battlefield and Antietam National Cemetery. Click here for more details. Above, workers are restoring the cemetery wall in April of 1940. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)

(Before it was declared a national holiday in 1971, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th of every year. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In addition to serving America by creating, repairing, and improving roads, bridges, utility plants, schools, airports, military bases, parks, and cemeteries, and also by working on projects related to historic preservation, environmental conservation, scientific studies, education, and much more, many WPA workers also served their country during World War II. For example, during the second half of 1942, "More than 4,000 WPA workers were inducted into the military services" (Federal Works Agency, "Fourth Annual Report," 1943, p. 37).

We'll probably never know the exact number of WPA workers who served in uniform (and died in uniform) during World War II. However, given that the WPA employed 8.5 million Americans between 1935 and 1943, the numbers are probably large. One thing's for sure: A significant number of WPA workers fought for our freedom to enjoy the things they created for us - things that we're still utilizing today, for example, historical records that we use for genealogy research, schools that our children attend, roads that we drive on, and airports that we fly in and out of.

Considering the insults they endured for being unemployed (the same type of insults that have been slung at the unemployed these past several years), isn't it amazing how much work, service, and sacrifice many WPA workers gave for their country? They should be remembered this Memorial Day. 

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