Military: In the Barracks and On the Homefront

In war and in peace, American military service has brought together people from across the nation. During World War II millions of men and women serving in the armed forces collaborated with others of different backgrounds and beliefs. Yet the military and defense industries were segregated and reinforced broader patterns of prejudice until presidential executive orders outlawed discrimination in the military. Service in the armed forces has bolstered demands for fair treatment in civilian life and since 1952 has provided a direct path to citizenship.

Called to Service

In the 1940s more than 12 million men and 300,000 women left their homes to join the armed forces. Millions of others worked to supply the military. The draft ordered men of all races, religions, education levels, and professions into service, uniting diverse Americans in the same uniform and cause.

Uniform jacket, 1944

Gift of Rochambeau A. Herosian

View object record
Reproduction of wartime poster supporting an executive order against discrimination in defense industries, 1942

Reproduction of wartime poster supporting an executive order against discrimination in defense industries, 1942

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Servicemen in barracks, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, 1943

Servicemen in barracks, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, 1943

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Coast Guard troops unloading onto Leyte Island, Philippines, 1944

Coast Guard troops unloading onto Leyte Island, Philippines, 1944

Courtesy of National Archives

Women working at Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California, 1945

Women working at Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California, 1945

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Fighting for Respect

The U.S. armed forces were racially segregated until 1948. African Americans launched a “Double V” campaign for victory against enemies abroad and against discrimination at home. Japanese American service members proclaimed their loyalty, even as their families were forced into U.S. incarceration camps. Mexican American veterans organized to fight for access to education, jobs, and the ballot box.

Insignia from segregated African American units, around World War II

Insignia from segregated African American units, around World War II

Gift of Army Times Publishing Company

Reproduction of

Reproduction of "A Yankee Doodle Tan (The ‘Double V’ Song)” sheet music, 1942

Courtesy of Duke Ellington Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Newsletter, “Fighting Americans, Too,” Volunteers for Victory, Topaz, Utah, 1943

Newsletter, “Fighting Americans, Too,” Volunteers for Victory, Topaz, Utah, 1943

Courtesy of Japanese American Documentary Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Segregated unit, 1942

Segregated unit, 1942

Courtesy of David E. Scherman/Getty Images

Color Guard, Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 1944

Color Guard, Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 1944

Courtesy of Hawaii War Records Depository, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Reproduction of recruitment poster featuring naval hero Dorie Miller, 1943

Reproduction of recruitment poster featuring naval hero Dorie Miller, 1943

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Reproduction of Mexican American veterans meeting announcement, 1948

Reproduction of Mexican American veterans meeting announcement, 1948

Courtesy of Dr. Hector P. Garcia Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, Mary and Jeff Bell Library