Many years ago, I was befuddled when I looked at a photo of the National FFA Convention held during 1945. The photo WAS NOT taken in the auditorium in the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium. The caption on the photo said Little Theater. I am familiar with most of the rooms in the KC Municipal Auditorium but could not place the room. I wondered where was this room?
A few years later I went into the newsroom during the FFA Convention in Kansas City to pick up a press release. While waiting for the press release, I looked around the room and experienced an “aha” moment –this was the room I had seen in the photo. The room was divided up with piping and drapes so the staff could do their job without being bothered by the rest of us; but when I looked closely around the room, I realized this was the room I had seen in the photo. I later learned the official name for the room was the Little Theater, but I always knew it just as the FFA newsroom. With all the drapes and the space being divided up for staff work, media interviews, photo ops, etc. I had never envisioned it as a meeting room.
I was amazed that the entire FFA convention could be held during the war in what was now the FFA newsroom. In this Friday Footnote, we will revisit the FFA Conventions held during World War II. All the information that follows is from the FFA Convention Proceedings for 1942-1945.
The first wartime FFA Convention was held in 1942. Because of the wartime travel restrictions, only 217 persons were at this “streamlined” convention (the previous year there were 6,000 in attendance).
Three of the national officers were unable to attend the convention. President Irvin J. Schenk, due to the illness of his father and pressing farm work was unable to attend the Convention. Second Vice President, Joseph Giacomini was absent due to his enlistment in the United States Navy in August, and Fourth Vice President, LaRoy Duvall was also unable to be present because of his college work and employment in a Detroit defense plant (working 50+ hours a week).
At the opening session, the delegates stood for one minute of silent tribute to those members who had lost their lives in the war.
During the convention, two speakers from the government talked about the war effort. One spoke about the National Scrap Harvest, complimenting the F. F. A. members on their participation. The second address was about War Bonds and Stamps and again the members were complimented for their participation.
A motion was made to buy a bomber for the war effort. After 15 minutes of discussion a motion was made to appoint a committee of five members to look into the matter thoroughly and report back to the convention as soon as possible. Later in the convention, the committee recommendation was not to buy a bomber in the name of the Future Farmers.
At the Tuesday afternoon session (Oct. 27) the assembled delegates and guests listened to the radio Navy Day Victory Corps Program.
The delegates revised the membership rules so that time in the military would not count in determining a member’s eligibility for degrees or awards after leaving high school
The Program of Work Committee recommended the following five new activities for the 1942-43 year along with 24 other items typically found in a Program of Work
- Producing Food for Victory
- Salvaging needed war materials
- Assisting with farm labor shortage
- Repairing and reconditioning farm machinery
- Buying war bonds and stamps
The National Radio Program Committee recommended the radio program theme for 1942-43 be “The Future Farmers and the War Effort.”
The report of the National Treasurer, D. J. Howard, shows that a $10,000 War Band had been purchased by the National FFA. Mr. Ross, the FFA Executive Secretary, reported on how the FFA had supported the war effort. His report contained statistics on the dollar value of war bonds purchased by state associations and individual members, and the number of pounds of metal, paper, rubber, and rags collected. Ross also reported that 49,408 active and associate FFA members were serving in the armed forces. He then identified a number of FFA members who were in the service and listed their accomplishments. Of special note was that 8 FFA members from the McAfee FFA Chapter in Harrodsburg, Kentucky were all in the 192ndTank Battalion and they were being led by Lieut. William Gentry of that chapter.
Ross concluded his remarks with this statement:
Speaking very frankly the F. F. A. organization will see some rather trying times in the years ahead. Our membership will likely decrease and with it there will be lost a certain amount of revenue. We must keep the organization going by making such adjustments as are necessary.
His words were prophetic regarding membership. The FFA membership at the start of the war was 245,830. At the end of the war, it had declined by about 50,000 members to 196,253.
Only delegates and award winners attended this convention. The attendance was 340. It was noted that “This voluntary decrease was made in the interests of relieving transportation facilities, as well as saving tires, gasoline, and money during wartime (p. III).” At the opening session, the attendees stood for one minute in silent tribute to those boys who have lost their lives on the battlefront.
When one opens the proceedings of the 1943 convention the first thing that jumps out is that the list of National FFA officers does not match the list of those elected at the previous convention. In the President’s Report (1943 FFA Convention Proceedings, p. 45) we learn why:
As most of you have been informed, Harold Gum was selected by the delegates at the last national convention to serve as your national president. Last spring he decided he could best serve his country as a member of the Army of the United States of America. Consequently his enlistment left a vacancy to be succeeded to by the next officer in order of seniority. As first vice president I have succeeded to the presidency and attempted to fill this position to the best of my ability.
David Walker, National Second Vice President, succeeded to the first vice presidency to fill the position left vacant by me. The office of Second Vice President is now held by Norman Martin, Jr., formerly the national fourth vice president. Norman stepped up two vice presidential positions due to a vacancy left by Third Vice President Willard Visek who also enlisted in the Army about the same time as Harold Gum. These successions to advanced positions left two national vice presidencies to be filled. Article IV of the By-Laws to the National Constitution makes provision for the National Board of Trustees to appoint officers to fill unexpired terms…Our selections… resulted in the appointment of George Stelter of Abilene, Kansas, as National Third Vice President, and Roy Meyer of Fairfield, Montana, as National Fourth Vice President.
[Note: There is an interview of Ron Meyer about this event conducted in 2018 by Montana FFA members. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/G4HQsMlmvrM. To learn more about Willard Visek who resigned his national officer position you can read his obituary. Thanks to Ben Meyer for this information]
There were two speakers during the convention from Washington. A representative of the Army Intelligence Service presented an address entitled “Security of War Information.” The second speaker spoke about the Victory Scrap Bank Drive.
Sergeant Mervin Bert Jordan, a former F. F. A. member, spoke to the delegates. He talked about the importance of the boys staying on the farm to produce food for the armed forces overseas. Note: Bert was part of the Doolittle Raid and was mentioned in last week’s Footnote. He was on leave.
A. W. Tenney, the FFA Executive Secretary, gave a report similar to the one Ross gave the previous year (Ross had resigned during the year to take a different position in the Office of Education). There was a detailed report about pounds of war materials collected, war bonds bought, Victory Gardens planted, farm machines repaired, and farm work performed by FFA members. He also mentioned the war heroics of a number of former FFA members. One other item that he noted was that “Due to war conditions it has been necessary to close temporarily a number of departments of vocational agriculture” (p. 63).
The National Treasurers report showed that more war bonds had been purchased by the National FFA. The program of work was basically the same as the previous year including the five war initiatives. The National Radio Program Committee recommended the theme “The Future Farmers and the War Effort” be continued.
Only delegates and award winners attended this “streamlined” convention. The total registration for the convention was 423. For the first time since the start of the war, all of the National FFA officers were present.
One of the motions that passed was an amendment to the Bylaws to allow for FFA chapters to continue to operate for a period not to exceed 36 months in schools where the Agriculture Department had been closed.
Unlike the previous wartime conventions, there were no speakers to discuss the war efforts.
The Committee on Resolutions offered 33 resolutions of which one stated: “To those Future Farmers of America who are in the Armed Forces and those who have made the supreme sacrifice, our hearts’ most sincere thanks for keeping up the standards of the F.F.A.” This resolution was repeated in 1945.
In the report of Robert Bowman, the National President, he said (p.47):
My activities as a national officer have been to a certain extent curtailed because of the war emergency. I have not been able to devote as much time to the organization as I would have liked, yet I cannot help but feel proud to have served as an officer during this period. You, the members of the largest farm boy organization in the world, have proven beyond all doubt that we can meet any crisis and emerge stronger in determination to achieve our ultimate goals.
Several other national officers, in their reports during the war years indicated their FFA efforts and activities were curtailed because of war restrictions and the need to produce more food.
FFA Executive Secretary A. W. Tenney reported on the efforts of FFA members in local activities related to the war effort such as buying bonds, growing Victory Gardens, and collecting scrap metal. Tenney also highlighted the actions of individual FFA members in the War. Some of the “thrilling stories” were:
- Mack Bunderson from Ferron, Utah was escorting Liberator bombers on a raid in Japanese territory when several Japanese Zeros attacked Mack and the Liberators. Mack’s right arm was injured, his compass was knocked out and the plane controls were damaged. Using the sun as a guide and with Japanese planes chasing him, he guided the plane back to his base using his knees to fly the plane and then made a wheels-up landing and was then immediately rushed to a hospital.
- Ralph Hanks of Red Bluff, California shot down five Japanese Zeros – in the first five minutes of his first encounter with enemy planes.
- Donald Hendrick, Washington state FFA president in 1934-35, single-handed attacked a formation of 24 Japanese bombers and 30 fighter planes of Heng Yang. He downed five bombers and one fighter plane before disengaging with the enemies when five of his guns were disabled.
- Private Mack Collins of the West Buncombe, North Carolina FFA organized a FFA chapter in New Guinea. He and several other former FFA members from various states created a FFA chapter, installed Mack as President, and were searching for information on what crops would grow in New Guinea.
This convention, even though the war had just ended, was another “streamlined” convention with 251 registrants. Japan had officially surrendered in September and the convention was held in early October. Seventeen states had only one official delegate in attendance instead of their allotted two; seven states had no delegates. One national officer, Tom Vaughn of Tennessee was not present.
The National Program of Work was adjusted to reflect the end of the war. Under Community Service, we find a new item “Assisting returning servicemen.” Five specific activities are listed in the Ways and Means section of the Program of Work for this goal:
- a) Hold part-time classes and evening schools.
- b) Secure information concerning Government aid for returning veterans.
- c) Encourage veterans to attend F.F.A. meetings.
- d) Encourage eligible veterans to resume active membership.
- e) Every chapter post an honor scroll of members that have been, or are, in the armed forces.
The report of the FFA Executive Secretary contained more statistics about the FFA war efforts conducted by FFA members. There were also tributes to FFA members who were war heroes. Tenney reported that:
- Roger Young, a member of the Green Springs, Ohio FFA Chapter who was killed in July of 1943 when he rushed a Japanese machine-gun nest has been immortalized in song. (“The Ballad of Roger Young” can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq9d43Oopps)
- Harvey Natchees was the first American soldier to enter Berlin. Harvey was a Ute Indian from Duchesne, Utah, and was an active member of the Toyack Chapter at Roosevelt High School before entering the Army.
During the 1945 Convention, the delegates started making plans to hold a “Victory” convention the following year.
The FFA Conventions held during World War II were streamlined events with restricted attendance. Typically, one or more national officers were not able to attend because they were serving in the armed forces or working on the farm to produce food for the War. Yet, the FFA continued to operate.
The remarks of FFA Executive Secretary A.W. Tenney at the 1944 FFA Convention sums it up perfectly (FFA Convention Proceedings, 1944, p. 61):
You have a just right to be proud of the service being rendered by the members of the F.F.A. in the armed forces of our Country. These hard-hitting troops from the farm are helping write today’s history on the battlefronts of the world in a thrilling manner with their heroic deeds.
This is a young man’s war–on the farm as well as on the fighting front. The record of achievement by members of the F.F.A. in helping to produce food, buying war bonds, protecting life and property, collecting scrap, repairing farm machinery, and in helping perform other essential activities has proven vital to our success on the battlefronts of the world.
The Friday Footnote for next week will focus on the FFA Victory Convention in 1946.
The material for this Footnote came from the FFA Convention Proceedings from 1942-1945. They can be accessed at https://archives.iupui.edu/handle/2450/2398/browse?type=dateissued.