Lt. William G. Sylvester of Kern County was one of America's first casualties of World War II, at Pearl Harbor.

The county also was home to one of the original Tuskegee airmen, Lt. Charles M. Bussey. And 2nd Lt. William L. Birch of Bakersfield volunteered to act as a bombardier onboard one of the famed Doolittle Raiders in their raid on Tokyo in spring of 1942.

They are just some of the many men and women who helped the United States and its allies prevail in World War II, both overseas and at home.

After the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, the next casualties of World War II took place on the home front.

The Japanese-American evacuation to internment camps in the spring of 1942 was a traumatic, wrenching experience for Kern County. Shafter High School lost nearly one-third of its student body, and Kern County High School lost nearly 40 students.

Yet there was graciousness in a statement by George Ogata of the Bakersfield Citizen League on May 23, 1942, expressing the sentiment of the nearly 1,000 people of Japanese ancestry in Kern who moved to the internment camps in Poston, Ariz.

"We are willing to sacrifice our all to insure the complete and ultimate victory of freedom's forces over those of greed, hate and tyranny," he said. "Therefore, the members of the Bakersfield Citizen League resolve by unanimous action to voluntarily evacuate to Parker Dam, Arizona for the duration of this war.

"We are not leaving Bakersfield sadly but with a vision of a promise for a happy future. In other words, this evacuation is full-fledged cooperative on our part to insure and support the state and federal government in their efforts to preserve law and order."

To illustrate the urgency of military production, Kern County had a shipyard in east Bakersfield. Assembly of ship sections for the famous Henry J. Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, Calif., took place in east Bakersfield between the Southern Pacific tracks and Kentucky Street and the ship sections were sent north via railroad cars

The Vega sub-assembly aircraft plant opened in Bakersfield and Taft to build parts for Boeing B-17s.

"Vega officials asserted that through the work on the sub-assemblies of the works done at the Bakersfield, Taft and Fresno plants, production of the B-17 has increased 100 percent in a few weeks," The Californian reported on Oct. 6, 1943.

Kern County's arid and clear weather invited the Army to establish and expand training airports at Minter Field outside of Shafter, Meadows Field in Bakersfield, Gardner Field in Taft and Muroc Army Air Base (currently Edwards Air Force Base) east of Rosamond.

The Marine Corps took a pre-existing Kern County airport in Mojave, used to service the gold and silver mines of the Mojave Desert, and created the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station Mojave.

By the spring of 1943, the days of mild encouragement to grow a victory garden were over. Under the guidance of Howard K. Dickinson, director of the Food-for-Victory program in Kern County, the young men and women of the Future Farmers of America, 4-H Clubs, YWCA Girls Reserves, Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts were used in a door-to-door outreach campaign in every community of Kern County.

Nothing was left to chance as amateur gardeners were organized by block leaders answering to the Kern County Defense Council and the Bakersfield War Council. People were also encouraged to begin raising chickens and rabbits to offset the increasingly tight rationing of meat. The message was clear: helping on the home front will win the war.

During World War II, 10,881 individual soldiers enlisted in the U.S. Army from Kern County. The records from the National Archives detail the state and nation of birth for men joining the Army from Kern County. Those with the highest totals were:

1. Mexico: 172

2. Canada: 70

3. China: 44

4. Italy: 13

5. Great Britain: 12

The top states of birth of those joining the Army were:

1. California: 2,902

2. Oklahoma: 2,209

3. Texas: 1,050

4. Missouri: 570

5. Arkansas: 483

The high numbers from the Midwest represent the impact of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s on Kern County. As in World War I, the Kern Veterans Memorial Wall of Valor also includes men from Kern County who died in the Canadian and British armies and the British Royal Air Force.

By the time the surrender of Japan was formerly signed on Sept. 2, 1945, 683 men and one woman from Kern County would be killed in action or killed in support of combat operations in World War II.

Ken Hooper is president of the Kern County Historical Society, historian for the Kern Veterans Memorial Foundation, and a U.S. history and archiving teacher at Bakersfield High School.

This first appeared in a Californian special publication, "The story of us," Aug. 6, 2016.

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