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Arizona's War Town: Flagstaff, Navajo Ordnance Depot, and World War II Hardcover – October 1, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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"A comprehensive and well documented assessment . . . unique and worthwhile reading." -- Arthur Gomez, author of In Search of the Golden Circle

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Few American towns went untouched by World War II, even those in remote corners of the country. During that era, the federal government forever changed the lives of many northern Arizona citizens with the construction of the U.S. Army ordnance depot at Bellemont, ten miles west of Flagstaff. John Westerlund now tells how this linchpin in the war effort marked a turning point in Flagstaff's history. One of only sixteen munitions depots built between 1941 and 1943, the Navajo Ordnance Depot contributed significantly to the city's rapid growth during the war years as it brought considerable social, cultural, and economic change to the region. A clearing in the ponderosa pine forest called Volunteer Prairie met the military's criteria for a munitions depot--open terrain, a cool climate, plentiful water, and proximity to a railroad--and it was also sufficiently inland to be safe from the threat of coastal invasion. Constructing a depot of 800 ammunition bunkers, each the size of a 2,000-square-foot home, called for a force of 8,000 laborers, and Flagstaff became a boom town overnight as construction workers and their families poured in from nearby Indian reservations and as far away as the Midwest and South. More than 2,000 were retained as permanent employees--a larger workforce than Flagstaff's total pre-war employment roster. As Westerlund's portrait of wartime Flagstaff shows, prosperity brought unanticipated consequences: racism simmered beneath the surface of the town as ethnic groups were thrown together for the first time; merchants called a city-wide strike to protest emerging union activity; juvenile delinquency rose dramatically; Flagstaff women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers, altering local mores along with their own plans for the future; meanwhile, hundreds of sailors and marines arrived at Arizona State Teachers College to participate in the Navy's "V-12" program. Whether recounting the difficulty of 3,500 Navajo and Hopi employees adjusting to life off the reservation or the complaints of townspeople that Austrian POWs--transferred to the depot to ease the labor shortage--were treated too well, Westerlund shows that the construction and maintenance of the facility was far more than a military matter. Navajo Ordnance Depot remained operational to support wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, and today Camp Navajo provides storage for thousands of deactivated ICBM motors. But in recounting its early days, Westerlund has skillfully blended social and military history to vividly portray not only a city's transitional years but also the impact of military expansion on economic and community development in the American West.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press; 1st edition (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816522626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816522620
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,899,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Don R. Lago on August 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
When this book showed up in the stores I ignored it for a long time, assuming that it was just the history of one army ammunitions depot--and how interesting could this be? But it turns out that this is a first-rate social history, taking place at the intersection of some major subjects of great interest to many, such as Native American culture and World War Two. The Navajo Depot was built near Flagstaff because it had to be on a major railroad line and able to serve West Coast ports, but be safely far from Japanese bombers. By chance this placed it near the heartland of the most vibrant Native American cultures. Thousands of Native Americans worked on the base, including a noticable percentage of the Hopi tribe. Most Native workers were Navajos, and they even built their own hogan village, and they continued some very traditional ways. Many white workers walked straight out of a cowboy movie. The mixing and mixups of white American and Native American cultures on the base are rich in cultural lessons and colorful characters and stories. (For example, R. C. Gorman--the future artist--grew up on the base). Then add a large group of Austrian POWS, and you have all the makings of a 'ship of fools' sort of journey with all its unlikely passengers interacting in unlikely ways. Some of the book's stories are quite entertaining. Portions of the book take place in nearby Flagstaff, but you don't have to know Flagstaff to enjoy this part too, for Flagstaff is typcial of Old West frontier towns and Rt. 66 towns and railroad towns, and some of the social pressures felt in Flagstaff, such as housng shortages and labor unrest, were typical of much of America in the years of World War Two. But there's much that makes this book unique.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent coverage of a little known aspect of a very important part of the war. Without the support of so many workers the crucial supplies our military needed would not have been provided.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting learned alot about the town I grew up in
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great history of Flag town.
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