Spokane in World War Two

World War Two was pivotal for Spokane and the Inland Northwest. The U.S. Military viewed the region as strategically valuable, so existing military facilities, including Fort George Wright and Felts Field were expanded. Thousands of American soldiers came into the area for training, including bomber pilots and crews at Geiger Field and submarine crews at Farragut. New supply depots were built, including the Spokane Army Air Depot which was renamed Fairchild Airforce Base following the war, and Velox one of the nation’s only inland naval supply depots in the Spokane Valley.

Local industries and businesses did all they could to support the war effort. Local aluminum from Kaiser was used to produce parts for the B-17 and the P-51, two of the Army Airforces primary aircraft during the war, and magnesite from Chewelah became a vital resource for producing steel. Spokanites and others around the inland northwest worked tirelessly to support the war, despite constant fears that the military presence could bring air raids. Hometown heroes joined the military to fight against tyranny in Europe and the Pacific.

The war also brought controversy to the area. The federal government feared that Japanese citizens would be loyal to Japan, so leaders of the local Issei/Japanese-American community were arrested and detained by the FBI. Axis POWs were brought to camps in Washington and used as a labor force. Local efforts to maintain morale were not always successful and some resulted in disaster.

Sponsored by the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture as an extension of the American Inheritance: Unpacking World War II exhibit. The Spokane in World War 2 Tour incorporates existing Spokane Historical stories as well as new stories from students of Dr. Cebula’s Nearby History course, which was co-taught with Freya Liggett, the History Curator at the museum. Students collaborated with the museum to research artifacts in the collection and write about them for the exhibit. Several of the new stories are directly related to the artifacts the students researched and expand upon those themes, others are additional stories not touched upon within the physical exhibit.

The Evolution of Sunset Field

In 1938 a growing Spokane County decided to develop a local commercial airfield and acquired land on the West Plains where “Sunset Field” was born. Sunset Field ran commercially until 1941 when it was purchased by the War Department. By 1942 it…

Felts Field

Felts Field is not only the oldest airport in the Spokane area but is also one of the oldest federally designated airstrips in the country. Located near Rutter and Fancher and along the banks of the Spokane River, Felts Field was originally known…

Spokane Army Air Depot

The United States military acquisition of McChord Field near Tacoma in 1937 created an additional need for military supply depots in the pacific northwest, and as the likelihood of US participation in the second world war increased it became a more…

Idaho's Submarine Fleet

Idaho’s Submarine Fleet During the middle of the night the small scale, unmanned sub glides through the cold, dark waters of Idaho’s deepest lake, Lake Pend Oreille. Idaho? Yes, for over 65 years the south end of the lake has been the premier…

The Velox Naval Depot

During the Second World War, Spokane, 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean, became a major naval supply point. As the United States entered World War Two and began ramping up its military industry, it needed distribution centers for the supplies. The…

WWII Convalescent Hospital

Training for combat at Fort George Wright gave way to recovery and recuperation during the Second World War. In 1941, Fort Wright had changed hands and become part of the United States Army Air Force. Being used as a base hospital for its first few…

Baxter Hospital

When the United States first entered World War 2 there was a rush to create new military facilities across the country, including an urgent need for new hospitals. The army declared that the existing military hospitals were ill-equipped and…

The Magnesite of Chewelah

As war erupted in Europe in July of 1914, its effects hit the shores of the United States years before its own entry into the war. In the industrialized world of the early 1900s steel was a much needed, if generally available resource. However, the…

Brown Industries

During the Second World War businesses across the nation began to shift their production to help focus on supporting the war effort. One such business located in Spokane was Brown Metal Works, later called Brown Industries. Located on the corner at…

Trentwood Kaiser Aluminum Rolling Plant

The economy of Washington is tightly connected to the vast hydroelectric development of the state. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal government laid the framework for a series of hydroelectric dams harnessing the immense water…

USO Clubs in Spokane

When the United States entered the Second World War President Roosevelt felt a need to create a home-based organization to provide recreational activities for soldiers. The United Service Organization or USO was then founded and USO clubs began…

Spokane Fire Station No. 17: Time of War

Though the United States was not yet officially involved in the Second World War until December of 1941, the Spokane Fire Department established Station No. 17, located at Felts Field, for military training use beforehand. No. 17 originally opened…

Arrests at the Desert Hotel

Sumi Yoshida and Joe Okamoto thought that December 7, 1941 was supposed a day that would live forever—in celebration. It was on that day the Japanese-American couple planned their wedding at the Desert Hotel, now the site of the Davenport Towers. The…

A Japanese Quaker Wedding in Spokane, WA

On a warm August day, Japanese-American pacifist and civil rights activist Gordon Hirabayashi made headlines, marrying his college sweetheart, Esther Schmoe, in a simple Quaker ceremony at Spokane’s Lidgerwood Evangelical Church. While the happy…

The Unlawful Arrest and Detainment of Frank Hirata

Kazuma “Frank” Hirata was a prominent member of Spokane’s Japanese-American community. During the 1930s he was the manager of the Spokane Vegetable Growers Association, a critical organization for the Japanese community’s economic success in the…

World War II Airshow Catastrophe

During World War Two war shows, like airshows today, were a popular way the military drummed up a patriotic spirit in local communities. The shows demonstrated military equipment to awe viewers and show just what all of the homefront efforts had…

James Wesley Crow

James Wesley Crow was born in Gooding, a small town in rural Idaho. After graduating from Gooding High School Crow attended Gonzaga University and the University of Idaho. Once finished with school he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a…

Spokane’s Red Tail

Though the US military was still racially segregated during the Second World War The 332nd Fighter Group of the Army Air Corps gained fame as an all-Black unit of pilots. Known as the Tuskegee Airmen due to training in the Tuskegee Institute in…

What Happened to Allan C. Powell

Among the many Spokanites who answered the call to service in World War Two was Allan C. Powell, son of William Weaver Powell and Helen Powell--formerly Helen Campbell. The second son of the wealthy Powell family, 1st. Lt. Allan C. Powell flew as a…

Spokane's Gold Star Mothers

In Spokane during World War Two, the Gold Star Mothers met for a monthly luncheon at the Crescent. Mothers whose children died in the war received gold star pins, and sometimes banners, in honor of their sons who made the ultimate sacrifice for their…

Prisoners of War Camps

Prisoners of war camps were common in the Pacific Northwest. German and Italian prisoners captured in the European Theater of operations were often transported to the United States, many to our region. The most prominent local POW camp was in…

Air Raid Preparation

During World War Two there were air raid sirens throughout Spokane including one here on the South Hill. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and lightning advance across the Pacific in the early days of the war spooked many Americans. They…
Sponsored by the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture