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WWII Grumman Wildcats 1942

Grumman Wildcats used by the U.S. Marines are shown in production on the assembly line in Bethpage, New York, in 1942.

From the generals who led the struggle to our grandfathers who stormed the beaches, the exploits of the World War II generation won’t be forgotten.

We know of their sacrifice and their bravery. But we are less familiar with the likes of Donald Nelson, Julius Krug or William Maxwell Aitken. Their accomplishments, while not quite the stuff of movies, were equally important to the allied victory in World War II.

Not to take anything away from our grandfathers and our generals, but the Germans and the Japanese had their share of brave fighters and smart military leaders. What they didn’t have was stuff, seemingly unlimited supplies of bullets, guns, ships, tanks and airplanes, without which the history of World War II would be much different.

That’s where men like Nelson, Krug and Aitken came in, not to mention the legion of women who worked in wartime production. Nelson and Krug led the War Production Board, an organization that helped turn the United States into the arsenal of democracy. Factories that had made silk ribbons produced parachutes. Aircraft production went from 6,000 in 1940 to 85,000 in 1943.

Aitken, a newspaper owner who went by the jolly title of Lord Beaverbrook, led a similar effort as minister of aircraft production and minister of supply in Great Britain. He helped spur the country to produce enough Spitfires and Hurricanes to turn back the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Again, history is much different, and much darker, without him.

Military power, then as now, is a reflection of economic might. Winston Churchill recognized in the dark days of 1940 that his country could not prevail without the U.S. and its incredible productive capacity at its side.

That’s one reason, a very big reason in fact, why it’s important that the United States maintains a dynamic economy and continues to remain on the cutting edge of science and technology. To do so isn’t just a matter of national pride. It’s a matter of national survival.

Recently, the St. Joseph company Van Am Tool & Engineering received county funds to support its effort to produce landing gear for an aircraft prototype that the Army is considering. A defense deal like this is often depicted as a lucrative contract, a job creator and maybe even a gravy train.

That’s part of it. But it’s also, in a small way, another example of the innovation and economic vitality that ensures that this country remains democracy’s arsenal.

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