The events depicted above describe only a small fraction of the total impact World War II had on Atlantic City. This thesis should not be construed as the final word on this subject, but rather the first step in recording and preserving what one small community did, as Winston Churchill might have said, during ". . . their finest hour." This resort community, which numbered 64,000 people during World War II, played host to approximately 400,000 servicemen and women within a three-year period.
Local community members created civil defense groups who not only looked for the enemy in the sky, but also watched for enemy ships and submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Others worked to cover or paint and redirect street lights as well as vehicle head lamps. There were volunteers who worked at the hospital as: seamstresses, bandage wrappers, letter writers, wheel chair pushers, entertainers, escorts and social directors. Many others opened their homes to share meals with military personnel and often provided traveling arrangements and safe havens for families who visited the sick and wounded.
Basic Training Center Number 7 provided military training to more than 250,000
men. A great many of them were also taught elementary reading and writing skills. This
amazing feat was accomplished within one year of its opening. It was changed to a Redistribution Center, which was also phased out the following year.
The United Nations conference held in November 1943 was the first of its kind, designed to incorporate forty-four nations into a cohesive relief and rehabilitation unit. Countries not invaded were asked to donate one percent of their gross national product to assist in the relief effort (Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 22, 557).
The entire hospital complex, the largest amputee and rehabilitation center in the United States, was designed, implemented, and eliminated, all within the course of three years. Begun as a station hospital using Atlantic City hotels as its foundation, Thomas M. England General Hospital disappeared by mid 1946 without a trace.
The Naval Air Station trained pilots and air crews for aircraft carrier and standard air combat needs. Coastal air defense was also a significant part of its daily routine. Now the William J. Hughes Technical Center, it covers more than five thousand acres. The main runway is more than ten thousand feet long. Very few of the buildings from World War II remain. At present, the New Jersey Air National Guard operates the 177th Fighter Wing there, employs hundreds of full-time technicians, and hundreds more spend one weekend a month there. The Hughes Technical Center employs hundreds of federal and local civilian workers. The following chart shows the transition from wartime commitments to peacetime establishments:
World War II Today
NASAC FAA/William J. Hughes Technical Center
World War II Today (continued)
NASAC 177th, Fighter Wing, NJ Air National Guard
Atlantic City International Airport
Woodbine Civilian Airport
Ocean City Civilian Airport (formerly Clark Field)
Warren Grove Military Bombing Range
NAS Cape May US Coast Guard Recruit Training Center
NAS Wildwood Cape May County Airport
Now, the skyline of Atlantic City is vastly different from what it was during the days of its World War II activities. Several of these changes are included here: The Haddon Hall Hotel is presently the main structure of Resorts International Hotel and Casino [the first casino to open when gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1978]. As for the Chalfonte Hotel, all that is left is a vacant lot. The Traymore Hotel can only be seen through old photographs and postcards, or in one’s memory. It and other hotels were destroyed to make way for some of Atlantic City’s Hotel Casinos and the ever necessary parking facilities. The Claridge Hotel is now a Hotel Casino. The railroad station building was recently destroyed to make way for a new Convention Center; however, the original Convention Hall remains largely intact and is still home to the Miss America Pageant each September.
Hundreds of men and women met and married during their stays in Atlantic City. Many couples have remained in the local area and are enjoying marriages of fifty years or more, including several of those interviewed for this paper. Pvt. Arthur Neumann was a teacher in the Special Training Unit and Sgt. John Haynie was assigned to the hospital. Seaman James Smith was a member of the original ship’s company at the Naval Air Station, while Lt. George Nestor fought in Europe and stayed in Thomas M. England
General Hospital during his convalescence. After the war, these men returned to Southern New Jersey to live.
Atlantic City received the full support of long-time resident United States Senior Senator William H. Smathers in attracting military facilities and the United Nations conference. Mayor Thomas Taggart had the vision to see Atlantic City as a world convention center. The city commissioners and the hotel and property owners knew that the monetary contributions and visibility which the government provided would enhance their community. Surrounding communities and their citizens banded together in a united effort to do what they could for those in the military and to help win the war. There were no divisions based on race, religion, or economic status.
The contributions of Atlantic City’s citizens were important to the war effort because they helped in the construction of training facilities, supported the functioning of the General Hospital, and provided valuable civil defense assistance. Sadly, of the thousands of men and women who participated in this period of Southern New Jersey history, many are dying without documented journals of their personal accounts. This paper is a small step in providing a comprehensive chronicle of their efforts and thus marking their places in the history of Southern New Jersey.