Raymond Wetzel spoke for the entire workforce of the C.H. Masland & Sons Company.

“We knew what was at stake,” said Wetzel, beaming with gratitude for the distinction the Carlisle manufacturing plant had just received.

It was Jan. 13, 1943, and the local firm had earned the coveted Army/Navy “E” Award for war production on the home front.

The transformation of looms and other methods devised by the Carlisle plant served as the model for other carpet firms across the country to streamline the mass production of canvas and tarpaulin of wide widths.

This innovation solved a major problem for the armed forces as they accelerated the equipping of forces battling Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan during World War II.

“Tarpaulin made here is being used in the South Pacific, in North Africa and in the frozen bases of the Arctic,” said Army Col. Robert T. Stevens of the Quartermaster General’s Office.

“[The products] are being tested by weather, sand, water and ice,” he added. “Your tarpaulins are protecting men and materials on every battlefront.”

‘E’ for extraordinary

Stevens was chief of the clothing and textile branch of the Procurement Division of the office. He was in Carlisle to present the Army-Navy pennant to Masland executives and employees.

“Yours has been an extraordinary contribution,” Stevens told them.

But the Carlisle plant was special for more than just its pioneer methods.

“The local firm is not only the only carpet factory on a full 100 percent war production, but has also earned the pennant for 100 percent war bond purchases among employees,” The Evening Sentinel reported on Jan. 14.

Navy Lt. Spencer G. Hall, an officer at the Navy supply depot in Hampden Township, pinned an “E” emblem insignia on the lapel of four Masland employees, including Raymond Wetzel.

“This is the distinguished medal of the home front, and is as great a distinction as the medal given on the battlefront for distinguished services,” Hall said. “Keep up the good work.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Arthur H. James showed up unannounced to congratulate the Masland workforce, saying their spirit of sacrifice and willingness to serve equaled the attitude he found in all the state’s mills, factories, mines and farms.

The workers joined company president Frank E. Masland Jr., in a mass pledge to step up and maintain the production level so the firm could earn another “E” award for excellence.

“We cannot rest on our laurels,” Masland declared during a ceremony attended by the band and color guard of the Medical Field Service School – the main tenant function of the Carlisle Barracks during the war. Prior to U.S. entry, the service school served as a think tank and research facility for new medical techniques and equipment including the Carlisle Bandage.

Because space was limited for the anticipated crowd, Masland company officials sent individual letters to each and every worker urging them to listen in on the radio for the broadcast of the award ceremony.

In a show of support, The Sentinel ran a series of display ads that featured the Army/Navy “E” emblem and a local businesses congratulating Masland for its accomplishment.

The list included Stambaugh’s Dairy on West North Street, the Sadie Dress Shop on North Hanover Street, B.B. Stearns Jeweler on West High Street and Fishel Bus Service. The Strand and Comerford theaters shared an ad.

Navy base troubles

But not all the news on the home front was good. The same day The Sentinel ran a story and photo above-the-fold on the success of Masland, the newspaper published a United Press wire service story about the Navy depot outside Mechanicsburg.

Agents with the U.S. Department of Justice had just launched an investigation of reported collusion in the sale of oil slag at the base. This took place after a federal grand jury had indicted nine individuals on charges of fraud associated with the construction of the $45 million depot.

“The jury yesterday [Jan. 13, 1943] heard testimony from more than 20 operation engineers employed at the depot regarding employee kickbacks to union representatives in charge of hiring workers, exorbitant entry fees and other ... rackets.”

One of the nine individuals was an official charged with receiving $3,000 from a contractor to swing a bid for the use of horses. Another official allegedly received $3,500 for his alleged role in a conspiracy to get a construction equipment contract.

The utilities supervisor for a Harrisburg firm was indicted for stealing 40 pounds of steel from the construction site to make a safe and 100 pounds of iron to make eight ornamental tables. A Harrisburg man was charged with saying he would approve bids from a machinery company in exchange for the firm buying him clothes for horseback riding.

U.S. Commissioner Sidney E. Friedman claimed the “wholesale graft, theft and bribery” present at the Navy depot would amount to about $1 million, but the indictments filed on Jan. 13 did not bear that out.

Driven by necessity?

The war years called on Americans to do their part and ration precious resources in support of the men fighting overseas. This meant that some activities considered harmless during peacetime were frowned upon or even regarded as a crime during war.

On Jan. 12, 1943, The Sentinel reported that 121 Cumberland County residents were cited on suspicion of violating the ban on pleasure driving and the non-essential use of automobiles. That regulation had gone into effect earlier in the month.

Seven of the residents cited surrendered their gas ration books, according to F. Frank Swigert, chairman of the county ration board. “All cases referred to the county board by police or WPA agents will in turn be referred to the district boards, which originally issued the books, for final action,” Swigert told the newspaper.

The addresses of the suspects prove the ban was being uniformly enforced across the country by municipal and state police officers, according to The Sentinel. Most of the drivers cited were using cars after midnight including all but a few of the Carlisle residents caught up in the sweep.

On Jan. 8, The Sentinel published the text of the regulation that barred the use of gas rations for pleasure driving to sports events, vacations, social calls and places of entertainment, amusement or recreation.

The use of gas rations were allowed in cases of driving to work or for personal or family necessity such as essential shopping, procuring medical attention, attending religious services or attending wakes or funerals.

“The ban on driving for fun should be enforced, but let the enforcement officials use good judgment and common sense in what they do,” a Sentinel editorial reads. “There are reports of police confiscating ration books, whereas it has been specifically stated and published that police are not to confiscate books but to report offenders to ration boards ... [to] confiscate books if the case warrants.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.