Side Effects

tumblr_liw64uUAWM1qgh9b7o1_500

In 1942, as war entered American life, a non-profit, government funded group called the Council on Books in Wartime was created and staffed by some of the largest names in the publishing business. The Council’s aim was to maintain the will to fight through information, printing books about how the war was being won and about the enemy. Books, the council felt were the “Weapons in the War of Ideas”.

For men and women serving overseas boredom was a more persistent enemy than the Germans or the Japanese. The Council on Books in Wartime felt reading was the perfect solution and endeavored to get books to soldiers. Believing in  the patriotic and generous American spirit the council organized book donation drives. Americans responded, donating thousands of books. The drive was a great victory but the victor was the American public.

Emblem of the Council on Books in Wartime

Emblem of the Council on Books in Wartime

Although the Council netted large numbers of books, the majority of tomes would put a strain on a soldier’s attention span. The Council book drives had given the public a chance to pass on volumes no one would want to read while feeling patriotic about doing it. In May of 1943 the Council decided “American soldiers were going to have books, even if the Army had to buy them itself”. A plan was drafted to purchase an initial 50,000 books for the armed forces. But this plan was not a solution.

Even with reading material available, soldiers weighed down with army equipment did not have room to carry a hardbound novel, even paperback books were not pocket sized. The Council decided the best answer to the problem would be to print the books themselves. Using magazine rotary presses thousands of books could be made to give to bored soldiers. From a business standpoint, it gave publishing houses a cheap, easy way to expose a captive new market to reading. The solution seemed obvious but there was one problem—money.

The problem wasn’t finding the cash to print the books or distributing them. The problem was if popular books were given away, who would buy them after the war? Publishing houses would be flooding the market with free books that could be taken home and sold second hand when the boys came home. Companies would be giving away millions of dollars worth of a reusable products, cheating authors and booksellers out of business by a good but unsound patriotic deed. The problem was solved in two ways: one, books for the armed forces would only be available overseas, not competing with the US market. And two, they would be printed on cheap paper that would fall apart with multiple readings.

Actually printing the books proved challenging. The rotary printing presses available were designed to print magazines not books. To navigate around this problem, two separate books were printed as one, magazine size, one on top of the other, then cut in half. Short paged books were printed in Reader’s Digest size and long volumes in pulp magazine size resulting in books measuring 5 1/2 by 3 7/8 inches or 6 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches respectively. The books were sold to the military at cost of about six cents per volume plus ten percent overhead, with authors and publishers receiving a half cent each per book.

Soldier on a troopship reading an Armed Service Edition book.

Soldier on a troopship reading an Armed Service Edition book.

Inside cover of an Armed Service Edition book

Inside cover of an Armed Service Edition book

Armed Service Edition books

Armed Service Edition books

Titles were decided upon by a committee that tried to cater to “all levels of tastes within reasonable limits” and had to be acceptable to both the Army and the Navy. Minor disagreements arose between the committee which wanted to print serious literary works, and the Army that wanted popular best sellers, westerns and mysteries, while the Navy held opinions somewhere in between the other two. Works deemed anti-democratic, offensive to an ally or religious or racial group were excluded.

Starting in September 1943, Armed Service Edition books found their way to the front line in the Pacific as men traveled from island to island before entering the combat zone. In England in June 1944, each soldier boarding an invasion ship for Normandy was given an Armed Service Edition book. Newspapers reported at the time that, although many things were found discarded from soldiers packs before going into D-Day, not a single book was left behind.

From 1943 to 1947 nearly 123 million copies of 1,322 different titles on all subjects were printed and became the only type of book reliably  available to service personnel overseas. Authors received hundreds of letters from people who before the war had never finished reading a single book. Some would meet ex-servicemen years later telling them how they had read their book in a foxhole in France, in some Pacific jungle, or in a frigid Alaskan or Icelandic outpost. The most reprinted book was Webster’s New Handy Dictionary, a book that depression kids with little education wanted to help them understand the new written world given them.

The men and women of World War Two came home with something other than memories of war, they came back with educations in history, the arts, poetry, science and popular fiction, all from little books named Armed Service Editions, a side effect of a war.

Ink for Ammunition

Mr. Hook

Mr. Hook

In 1942, Henry K. Ketcham was sworn into the Naval Reserve. Henry was from Washington State, where he had dropped out of college in his freshman year.  He had hitchhiked to Los Angeles, California in 1938 where he lived until he joined The Navy.

Navy poster with artwork by Henry Ketcham

Navy poster with artwork by Henry Ketcham

Mr. Hook eyes his target after coming home rich on war bonds

Mr. Hook eyes his target after coming home rich from investing in war bonds

The War brought thousands of men like Henry together; Americans who were ready to serve their country in its time of need. Henry was going to fight the Japanese and his weapon would be his pen.
Henry was an animator. He had worked on Woody Woodpecker films until he made it to the big show at Disney, working on films like Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Studios such as Disney and Warner Brothers threw themselves into supporting the war effort by designing insignias and creating military films.

Many of Hollywood’s best and most talented men served their country in the Armed Forces. Henry’s job was to make war posters. He came up with catchy slogans mixed with funny pictures: A fat sailor eying a curvy beauty is told to  “Watch your own waistline”  being reminded that “Food is scarce, don’t waste it on your waist!”. Cartoons were a fun and innocuous way to teach and indoctrinate. It gave Henry an outlet for his humor and creativity. He created Half Hitch, a comic strip about everyday navy life.

He also worked on propaganda films for The Navy. He created a character named Mr. Hook,  a sailor who fought treacherous, buck-toothed Japanese. Henry wrote four short films with titles like “Tokyo Woes” and “Take heed Mr. Tojo” featuring Mr. Hook  winning his battles by using war bonds.  Henry reminded the viewers to “Sink the Rising Sun with war bonds as your gun. War Bonds are ammunition!” and “Be a hero down a Zero with war bonds”.

Ketcham at work for the US Navy

Ketcham at work for the US Navy

Henry also appreciated women and the roles they played in providing humor for a male audience. Wolves were a common way of depicting overactive and excited males. One of Henry’s works of this period was entitled “COMWOLFPAC STAFF” a play on navy acronyms of “Com” short for “Commander” and “Pac” for “Pacific”. One wonders how much of Henry’s art imitated his own life.

Henry served in The Navy until 1946 when he returned to being a civilian. He married and had a son.  He changed his focus from animation to comic strips. He started to sign his work “Hank Ketcham” and in 1951 created a character based on his son entitled “Dennis the Menace”.

Zero being attacked by War Bond in "Take heed Mr. Tojo"

Zero being attacked by War Bonds in “Take heed Mr. Tojo”

Ketcham's "ComWolfPac Staff"

Ketcham’s “ComWolfPac Staff”

Henry’s four years in World War II continued to find it’s way into his work.  Dennis the Menace’s father Henry was a navy man and Henry’s wartime character Half Hitch was revived into a comic strip in the 1960’s.

Though The War was just an interlude in his career, Henry Ketcham and many other talented young men and women served their country in its time of need, using their wit as a weapon and ink for ammunition.

Casualties of War

Blue and Gray symbol of the 29th Infantry Division

Blue and Gray symbol of the 29th Infantry Division

When John Gallaher McConnell was old enough to go to war his father told him two things: one, he would be going to England for the drive on France, and two, be careful of Scots, they anger quickly.

John’s father, Alfred, was a coal miner who had experience with Scots. He had married one. Together the elder McConnells raised John and his three older brothers in Moundsville, West Virginia. The town was tight knit, and diverse. Native West Virginians lived with and intermarried people from Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary.

John's letter to his mother January 2nd 1944: Dear Mom, If you do not get this letter let me know and I will mail it. I cannot tell you where I am because I am not there. I can't tell you where I am going because I haven't gone yet. I am not back yet because I haven't gone yet. I don't know what I am going to do because I haven't done it yet. Well all joking aside, I am in New York City on a pass. I am stationed at Camp Shanks N.Y. and don't know where I am going nor when. I hope I go where Paul is but I am not that lucky

John’s letter to his mother January 2nd 1944:
Dear Mom,
If you do not get this letter let me know and I will mail it.
I cannot tell you where I am because I am not there. I can’t tell you where I am going because I haven’t gone yet. I am not back yet because I haven’t gone yet. I don’t know what I am going to do because I haven’t done it yet.
Well all joking aside, I am in New York City on a pass. I am stationed at Camp Shanks N.Y. and don’t know where I am going nor when. I hope I go where Paul is but I am not that lucky

When John joined the army he was sent to the Infantry. He spent New Year’s 1944 in New York City. By February he was sailing overseas. John’s father’s guess was correct. John went to England. John wrote his family. He saw his brother in London and experienced the wartime blackout. He sent his money home and invested in war bonds. He wanted the money to start his own small business when he was back in West Virginia. He wrote his father asking him join him in business. He didn’t want either of them to worry about someone else telling them what and how to do things anymore. The nineteen year old had  plans for his future. He just had to survive until he could make them happen.

Private McConnell was assigned to Company C, 175th Infantry Regiment of the  29th Infantry Division. They wore a blue and gray yin-yang symbol on their shoulders and helmets. The blue and gray represented the Union and Confederate background of the states from which the men came. The 29th Division had been in England since 1942. The 29th impressed the generals in training enough to be picked for the first wave of the D-Day assault. The generals weren’t worried about the beaches anyway. The navy and air force would destroy any defenses before the men got there. The tough battles would be inland.

John McConnell landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus one, June 7th. The 175th was the reserve regiment. They had waited offshore as other two regiments of the 29th landed on June 6th. The day after D-Day Omaha Beach was still not secured. Machine gun and sniper fire came in on the men and landing craft exploded when they hit underwater mines. The shore was covered with metal remnants from the invasion. Bodies floated in on the tide and littered the shore. The dead were 29th Division men. Men who had trained two years to fight and died within minutes. They lay in contorted forms in their own blood. The only thing the men of the 175th could do for their comrades was try not to step on them.

The helmet John McConnell wore through the war

The helmet John McConnell wore through the war

In Normandy, the nineteen year old from Moundsville was thrown into small towns like Gruchy and Isigny.  He fought his way across the Aure River. As the army advanced from the shore towns to the hedgerow country, the terrain changed to sunken lanes and massive walls of brush that blocked out the light. Dead cattle lay bloated in the sun alongside bodies of soldiers. The Germans waited in the hedgerows until the Americans were at point blank range before opening fire. The 29th took heavy losses; some companies losing almost every man within weeks of the invasion.

29th Division men rest during the battle for Brest, France

29th Division men rest during the battle for Brest, France

John learned how to act in combat. He learned the hard way: making assaults on towns and flanking farmhouses through open fields under machine gun fire. He learned to kill or be killed. He survived. By July he was promoted to Private First Class and took part in the attack on St. Lo. He fought in the French port of Brest in September. By October he was a Staff Sergeant, one of few original men left. The kid whose brothers used to tease him about being a brat was a squad leader. The “brat” now commanded men in battle.

On November 19th, 1944, the 29th Infantry Division was fighting through West Germany. The 175th was attacking the town of Schleiden. John’s Company C gave fire support to other 175th men who moved forward with chemical mortars and tanks. The enemy was not eager to surrender. It had taken two days of killing before Schleiden was in U.S. hands. The town was no different than the dozens of small towns the 29th had gone through in six months of fighting. It cost the lives of friends and exterminated those of the enemy. The shattered streets and smashed houses held mangled bodies or death from a hidden enemy. Schleiden was no different from the towns before and the towns after. They all smelled of death.  For Staff Sergeant McConnell, Schleiden was the last fight. After six months at the front he was labeled a non-battle casualty and was sent to a hospital off the line.

GI's advancing in towns walk by dead comrades

GI’s advancing in towns walk by dead comrades

When the war was won, John went back to Moundsville, West Virginia. He got married and took a job at Columbia Southern Alkali. America was entering a new age of prosperity but John McConnell had a hard time settling down. Maybe he had trouble at home or perhaps he could not forget what he had seen and did as a nineteen year old in Normandy, Brest, Northern France and the Rhineland. In 1952, at age twenty seven, John McConnell hanged himself.

A picture of John's captioned "My Squad"

A picture of John’s captioned “My Squad”