The Redbud City: World War II brings many changes to Shawnee

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
HARRELL KING MATTOX,  19-year-old city youth was the first Shawnee boy killed in the war against Japan. He was stationed at Hickman Field in Honolulu, and killed in the  Japanese air assaults on that field.

FIRST SHAWNEE BOY KILLED IN THE WAR

In far away Honolulu, more than a month earlier, Harrell Mattox, 19, bought and wrapped a Christmas gift for his mother, Mrs. Shelby Coffey, of 716 north Kickapoo Street. Late Wednesday afternoon, December 10, 1941, while Mrs. Coffey mourned his death, and grieving relatives filled his boyhood home, the gay, tinsel-wrapped package arrived. “She hasn’t opened it,” a friend reported. “She said she just can’t yet.”

Earlier, Mrs. Coffey, whose handsome son was the first sacrifice to the new war from the Shawnee community, seemed to find relief in talking about him. “I begged and begged him not to go, but it was the only thing he wanted to do. He had never caused me a minute’s serious worry before, but he was determined to go. And later, he was so happy with his work in the army, seeing so much and having such grand experiences that I was reconciled, almost, and glad that he had found his place in life.”

A straight-A student at Shawnee High School, where his good looks and friendly personality made him one of the most popular members of the 1939 graduating class, Harrell was remembered especially for his aptitude for mathematics.

“He was crazy about motors,” Mrs. Coffey recalled. “From the time he was big enough to walk, he was always tinkering something mechanical or electrical. I remember how he begged me for a bicycle and I finally bought him an old one. It was just a few weeks after that, a fortune teller warned me he’d come to grief on it. Sure enough, a car knocked him off it and tore it up.

“He was a good son and I thought I couldn’t live when he went away. But I saw I had to sign the paper or he’d go anyway. He wanted to be around airplanes. That’s all he really wanted to do. I finally had to give in. His letters were so happy. He wrote that he was learning so much that would be useful to him whether he stayed in the army or not.”

Willard Brokaw, principal of Shawnee High School, said that afternoon: “Harrell was the first Shawnee High School graduate to die in this war. He was known and liked here by hundreds of people. If they can’t bring his body back for burial, at least we shall hold a memorial service for him.”

TOWN TIRE RATIONING COMMITTEES NAMED

Members of city and town tire rationing committees in the county and their jurisdictional areas were named Monday, January 5, 1942, at an organization meeting of the county tire rationing board. V.E. Kidd, administrator of the county board of public welfare, was chosen secretary of the board. The welfare office issued certificates of purchase after applications were approved first by the local committees and then by the county board.

It was explained that committees could not function until supplies were received for distribution from the state administrator. The county board would meet on call of the chairman, John L. Goode, or any member. Automobile and truck drivers were asked to give special attention to areas in which the groups had jurisdiction in deciding on applications.

In Shawnee, the committee consisted of M.M. Henderson, chairman; M.M. Chapman and Tony Adams, all of Shawnee.

SALE OF TIRES BEGAN IN THE CITY

Sale of tires and tubes, halted abruptly by government order in mid-December, were being resumed in Shawnee on a highly-restricted basis through a complicated setup of city and county tire boards.

Up to Saturday afternoon, January 10, 1942, seven truck tires and two tubes were released by tire boards’ order for sale to individuals or firms. First to successfully thread the maze of details was the Kib Warren Plumbing Shop, that needed two tires. Second was Fred Turner, who purchased a pair of tires for his fleet of buses.

The Shawnee tire board of M.M. Henderson, Merle Chapman, and Tony Adams met daily at 1 P.M. in the office of the County Democrat. The county board of John Goode, H.S. Humphrey, and R.L. Guderman also met daily.

Applications for tires by persons living in the Shawnee district were filed with the Shawnee board. After the application was approved, it was taken to the office of Vernon Kidd, secretary of the county tire board. He would direct the would-be purchaser further on the procedure necessary to actually buy a tire.

SUGAR PLACED UNDER RATION PLAN CONTROL

Government rationing of sugar was announced on the night of January 25, 1942. It was set to begin early in February, with each person limited to about a pound a week.

Announcing the program, Price Administrator Leon Henderson said it proposed to recover excess stocks from persons who have hoarded supplies. The prospective allowed one-pound per person a week, coupled with the average per capita home consumption of about one and a half pounds a week in 1941.

Henderson said there was an actual shortage of about one-third in the sugar supply, and that this, rather than hoarding, necessitated this first food stuff rationing of the war. Rationing books were designed and printed and would start in a couple of days. To hoarders, Henderson gave a stern warning.

“Those who have stocks on hand are advised to start using them now. Consumers who are in possession of abnormally large stocks of sugar are warned that they will not be permitted to gain an advantage from their supposed foresight.”

In connection with restriction of sales by retailers, the Justice Department announced earlier that stores requiring consumers to buy a certain amount of other groceries in order to get sugar were liable to prosecution under anti-trust laws. A department official said penalties up to $5,000 fines, a year’s imprisonment or both were possible.

These stories appear in Volume Two of the six-volume history of the City of Shawnee. The first four volumes, through 1989, are now available for purchase at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. They are now open, and you may visit them, or you may order them online at their website, or by calling (405) 275-8412. Each volume is $35, but a purchase of two or more volumes can be obtained at $30 each. We are offering a special deal. If you purchase any other volume, you may obtain Volume One (1830-1929) for just $20. Volume Five, (1990-2009) is now finished and at the printer. Look for it near the end of May. Volume Six, (2010-2021) is almost completed and should be on the market shortly after that.