Written By: Mr. Matt Craig
In July communities across the nation celebrate our independence. We are reminded of our unparalleled freedoms, our patriotism and, of course, our fellow Americans who have answered the call of duty for our country.
Our region was shaped by one such poignant story of Americans answering that call—through unbelievable dedication, work ethic and tenacity everyday Americans stood up the Naval Ammunition Depot Burns City during WW II, which was nothing short of impossible.
Embroiled in war, our nation needed ammunition, and it needed it immediately.
Construction began at Burns City 1941 to establish the ammunitions depot, which has evolved into today’s Naval Support Activity Crane. The area was untouched wilderness, but because of its secure inland location, it was mandated to become a highly functioning ordnance production facility, complete with infrastructure and a robust labor force. And, it needed to happen not in years, but in weeks and months.
While excellent roads, highways and housing were being engineered out of the rolling Southern Indiana hills, the leaders had to hire and train thousands of ordnance workers that could produce, ship and store live ammunitions. The labor force was scarce; most of the people in the area were farmers and most of the young men were in service—but the depot, and our communities, rose to the challenge.
The book, The World War II History Of NAD Crane, by Margaret Julian and Anthony Haag, details how early leaders addressed the labor shortage and built the depot from the ground up.
The depot reached out to those as young as age 16, calling for “BOWs & WOWs “ (Boy Ordnance Workers and Women Ordnance Workers.) All women under age 45 were urged to take jobs as Mechanics Learners, the preliminary road to munitions workers. And students from Indiana University worked weekends and seniors over 70 joined in. Thousands answered the call.
By December 1944 the civilian workforce at Crane had reached 7,000 and the depot was reported to be the largest Naval industrial activity in the world. A $60 million project covering more than 100 square miles, complete with magazine storage, production facilities, barracks and quarters connected by more than 125 miles of railways and 200 miles of highway.
Our communities, our men and women showed the world that Southern Indiana possessed the work ethic and dedication our nation desperately needed. Today, scientists, engineers, ordnance workers and technicians at NSA Crane continue to serve our country with that same dedication, honoring those that came before them. So after the fireworks, remember the sparks along the way that have contributed to our rich history, our reputation as innovators—remember the BOWs and WOWs.