THE GEORGIA STATE DEFENSE FORCE: The Early Years
In 1940 most of Europe was under attack. France was being trampled under Hitler’s boot. England was teetering on the brink of defeat. The Japanese were running rampant in the Far East. America was unprepared for war with its small regular Army. Every State’s National Guard knew it would soon be called upon to enlarge the Army with forces that had some training to fight. What would the states do to protect, secure and defend themselves if their National Guards were gone?
With this in mind, Georgia’s Governor Eurith Dickinson (Ed) Rivers requested the American Legion to organize a state military force to be know as the Georgia State Defense Corps. In June 1940, Governor Rivers’ authorized a strength of 6,000 for the newly established Georgia State Defense Corps. By September all but 45 of the authorized positions were filled. As quick as this was, it was none too soon. U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt began in September mobilizing the National Guard, and by 1941 all states, including Georgia, saw all their Guardsmen on active duty. That initial call up was for one year, and a popular song of the time was “Good-by, Dear, I’ll be Back in a Year”. No one at that time could know that those Guardsmen would be on active duty for 5 years and many would never return home.
The formation and recruiting of 6,000 members into the Georgia State Defense Corps was indeed timely, because on 10 December 1941,three days after the U.S. was plunged into World War by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Georgia State Defense Corps was called to active duty. The Corps was organized into 297 units, and designated by cities and towns numbered, such as Waycross Unit No. 72. As the federalized National Guard sailed for destinations such as England and New Guinea, the new State Defense Corps was filling the role within Georgia of the departing Guardsmen. Some of their first duties were guarding citizen’s scattered belonging from a tornado and searching for survivors from an airplane crash. However, their main job was the defense of Georgia. State Defense Corps units were placed at vital points in the state, including all water works, power plants, large power dams, and all railroad bridges, airports and broadcasting stations. There was a Boat Unit that performed shore patrol, utilizing private yachts. There was also an Air Unit that patrolled the skies.
One volunteer who joined the State Defense Corps in 1941 was 17 year old Ivan C. Gibson, who now lives in Monroe, Georgia. Gibson helped guard the DeKalb County Water Pump Station in Decatur. He was posted at this guard station on weekends, four hours on and four hours off, from Friday afternoon until Sunday night. Armed with shotguns, Gibson reported, “One of our boys, Henry Adams, shot an escaped Prisoner form the DeKalb jail that refused to halt on command.” He was taken to Emory Hospital, where he recovered from buck shot wounds. Gibson said they had to memorize the same General Orders that Regular Army soldiers did, and he can still quote them. He was drafted in 1943, and saw extensive combat from Normandy to the surrender of Germany.
There was no shortage of volunteers for the Georgia State Defense Corps. A 59 year-old man wrote on 21 June 1941, “ . . . my Father served four years in the War Between the States . . . my oldest son served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and my other two sons are in the 118th Field Artillery (a Georgia National Guard unit) now in Tennessee (on training maneuvers) . . . they are doing their bit and I want to do mine . . . “ A young stenographer at Gulf Oil Corporation in Atlanta wrote to the Adjutant of the State Defense Corps on 2 May 1941, volunteering for “any kind of job you might need me for in the Civilian Defense Program.” Marcia Malone further wrote: “I feel that girls should also be ready in time of emergency to do their part, although I trust it will never be necessary. All of my girl friends feel the same as I do about it. We could certainly learn to be airplane spotters or something like that.”
The Georgia State Defense Corps would need all the help they could get during the next several years with the world at war with a formidable enemy.