Patriotism is expected to be bountiful Friday as Pascagoula celebrates its designation as a World War II Heritage City.
The National Park Service awarded the prestigious title to the city last year. The title recognizes the city’s contributions to the war effort of World War II and for its continuing work to preserve its military history.
The City of Pascagoula has extended an invitation to all Mississippians to attend a recognition ceremony Friday, November 17, at 10 a.m. at Singing River Island. The island was formerly known as Naval Station Pascagoula because it was once a Navy Homeport but closed as such in 2006.
While southeast Mississippi’s shipbuilding facilities are located in Jackson County, a large number of employees travel to work there each day and have done so since the World War II era. They travel from surrounding places such as George, Greene, Stone and Harrison counties. During the war, people from 69 of Mississippi’s 82 counties and from other states moved to the Pascagoula area to find work. These shipyard workers remarkably produced almost 100 ships for the war during a four-year period.
Friday’s event will honor these shipyard workers as well as the military, veterans and the community. World War II veterans in attendance will be recognized as will other veterans and shipbuilders from the World War II time period. Pascagoula leaders ask that members of those groups contact City Hall prior to the event by emailing [email protected].
Featured speaker for the morning will be U.S. Senator Roger Wicker. Also on hand will be U.S. Congressman Mike Ezell and Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson. Entertainment will be provided by the Victory Belles, a singing trio from the World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Only one city from each of the 50 states can be chosen as a World War II Heritage City. Currently there are 18 other cities across the United States. Pascagoula’s official application was filed by Mayor Jay Willis. “From the very start, Pascagoula embraced the war effort,” Willis wrote in the application’s cover letter. “We went into debt to build a shipyard when America was not yet at war. We opened our homes to the strangers flooding into town. We built streets, schools, utilities, and recreation facilities to handle the sevenfold explosion in population.” In additional to Willis’ effort, many local historians and interested citizens diligently worked behind the scenes gathering documentation and evidence to support the 16-page application. United States Senators and Congressmen wrote letters supporting the designation.
World War II transformed Pascagoula from a depression-era fishing village into the industrial town it is today. The shipyard built in 1938 by Robert Ingalls under Mississippi’s Balance Agriculture with Industry Plan gave thousands of Mississippians their first real chance to move into the manufacturing sector of the nation’s economy, to get a steady, good-paying job, and to provide a good life for their families. “In four years,” Willis wrote, “our little shrimping and boatbuilding town became a major industrial power and today we are the nation’s premier military shipbuilding center.” The town’s population swelled during the war from 3,500 to almost 38,000 residents.
The wartime industrial production was not limited to Ingalls. The U.S. Corps of Engineers maintained a shipyard there repairing dredges and snag boats for the War Department. The F.B. Walker Shipyard built ocean-going tugs for transporting oil and gas along the U.S. shorelines throughout the war. Other industries converted from peacetime manufacturing to defense production. By 1938, it had become obvious that even if the United States managed to stay out of the war, the armies and civilians in Europe would need American supplies. Therefore, in the fall of that year the Jackson County Mill, a large textile plant, hired an additional 400 workers to meet this anticipated demand. The mill produced not only uniforms and accessories, but also much-needed overcoats for the cold European winters.