On December 7th, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack destroyed 12 American warships and 188 aircraft. Hit by several torpedoes, the USS Oklahoma was one of the first battleships sunk, and 429 men onboard were killed. The United States entered World War II on December 8th, 1941, when we declared war on Japan for the attack on Pearl Harbor the day before. Three days later Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
World War II brought many changes for many people, and the state of Oklahoma and its people were among those who experienced them. As World War II approached, the state of Oklahoma was still in an economic depression, but as the war progressed, it helped pull the state out of the Great Depression in a huge way.
Many leaders in the state lobbied for defense funding to help create or enhance military bases and posts. More than eighty military facilities were built or approved for Oklahoma during World War II. Tinker Air Force Base was one of the bases that benefited from funding. It opened near Oklahoma City and served as the largest air material depot in the world. Bombers were also repaired at Tinker. Prisoner of War Camps were also among some of the facilities established in Oklahoma during the War. Over thirty POW camps were established across the state, with one of the larger camps being in Alva, OK. There were almost five thousand men confined at the Alva camp by February 1945. The facilities brought in many troops, but also employed a very large number of civilians as well. The war also created an opportunity for many unemployed individuals to sign up to be service men and women.
Oklahomans made important contributions to the war effort. The Thunderbirds, Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Division, were one of the first National Guard Unit activated during World War II. The 45th Infantry took part in heavy fighting during the war including the invasion of Sicily as well as the 1945 drive into Nazi Germany the ended the War in Europe. Additionally, the success of Native American Code Talkers in World War I led to their use in World War II in order to transmit and receive messages that baffled the enemy. Different groups of Indians were used in different theaters of war. The Comanche Indians (which were primarily from Oklahoma) were assigned to the 4th Signal Company of the Army's 4th Infantry Division used in the European Theater.
The war also created many social changes. Women began to work outside of the home in factories, defense plants and sometimes even enlisting in the military. After the war, many people returned to their homes, however some found new homes in different states as well as different countries. In Oklahoma, for the first time, the majority of the state's population lived in urban areas instead of on the farm. Due to the war a baby boom arose in the year following, increasing the population of schools tremendously a few years later.