War Loan Drive parade

June 3, 2011

Fresno Bee photo

Then: Looking up Fulton Street from Kern Street, army soldiers, over a thousand strong, follow the color guard as they parade through downtown on September 11, 1943, during the nationwide war bonds campaign. Fresno Bee photo

Thousands of miles from the front lines, U.S. military members gave Valley folks a reminder of how much their support was needed during the depths of World War II.

Fresno was a major war training center and an integral part of the coastal defense system. Three Army bases were established here: Air Corps at Hammer Field (now Fresno Yosemite International Airport); Signal Corps at a Pinedale training center; and a training base at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

Locals turned out after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to arms, too: Some 25,000 Valley men and women joined the military. Thousands more helped through relief and volunteer organizations.

Citizens were doing their part, too, coping with shortages of commodities and gasoline, contributing to salvage drives (for material such as metal and rubber) and participating in air-raid drills and dim-outs.

But nearly two years into the war, the government needed more. It needed money.

On Sept. 11, 1943, the Third War Loan Drive nationwide campaign hit Fresno for a massive military parade to promote buying Victory Bonds. It followed previous war bond drives in late 1942 and spring 1943.

Spectators lined downtown streets to watch the precision marching of Army men from the three Fresno camps. The Bee said the parade was one of “majestic splendor.” It included marching units of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), WACS (Women’s Army Corps), AWVS (American Women’s Voluntary Services), Marine Corps and American Legion, plus Boy Scouts carrying “Back the Attack” banners urging the purchase of war bonds. Altogether those in the parade numbered more than 1,500.

Local dignitaries rode in Jeeps, but one ride was reserved for a special guest that greatly amused spectators: a dummy representing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, escorted by military police and guarded with bared bayonets. (At the time, Allied and Axis powers were battling for control of Italy.)

In Courthouse Park, a large display of Army field equipment, including radio and communication devices, was shown.
Valley residents responded by investing more than $1.1 million in Victory Bonds in the first two days of the campaign. Overall, the nation bought $19 billion to beat the federal goal by $4 billion.

A fourth drive, held in early 1944, raised $16.7 billion.

John Walker

Now: Trees line the section of the parade route, now on the Fulton Mall, at Kern Street.