Pleasant Valley Goes to War: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

War often requires sacrifices and effort at home as well as in the battlefield. Pleasant Valley, a small Faulkner County community of about 50 or 60 families, contributed greatly to the war effort during World War II. Many of its young men had gone to serve in the military so those who were left behind worked doubly hard to do all they could for the war effort.

The community became well known for its efforts to provide agricultural products that were greatly needed by the troops. In the November 8, 1942 Arkansas Gazette Magazine section, the efforts of the community were featured in a three-page article, “Pleasant Valley and the War” by Ann Faris.

In the article, Faris said: “Pleasant Valley went to war three years ago. When war actually came they moved not as individuals obeying a government edict, not as two or three farmers doing what they could, but as a farming community already mobilized for action, united into an efficient fighting unit to produce more food and fiber and timber, and more of anything else that they’re called on to produce.”

Pleasant Valley believed that “an army marches on its stomach; its feet won’t move very fast if its stomach is empty.” They grew corn, cotton, peanuts and soybeans. They raised cattle for beef and dairy products. They raised hogs, fished, hunted wild game and canned fruits and vegetables for the war effort.

The community, with the help of a five-county Central Valleys Soil Conservation District, organized itself to implement better farming methods so that they could become more productive. Everyone turned out to build terraces to protect the land from erosion and turn the water into useful channels. Teams of men went from farm to farm building 5,000 feet of terraces a day until all the farms had the needed terracing to get more crop yield from their land.

The women in the community canned hundreds of quarts of fruits and vegetables. They also helped milk the cows and took care of the milk. It was important to keep the milk as free from environmental contaminants as possible. The milking shed was kept very clean. Only the people doing the milking were allowed in the milk barns. Even the children could not go in and watch.

The milk house was also kept very clean. The milk was brought directly from the milking shed and placed in running water to cool it. It was then strained into sterilized cans and set in an electric cooling machine that kept the 34-degree water circulating.

Some Pleasant Valley men and women went to work in the munitions plants that were opened to provide military equipment for the war. Unis Burnett, my grandfather, and his brother, Cecil, went to work at the Maumelle Ordnance Plant at Marche. The plant produced ammonium picric powder for the government. This ordnance plant produced over 100,000,000 pounds of ammonium picric powder between March, 1942 and August, 1945.

Several young women from the community went to work for at the Jacksonville Ordnance Plant. This plant assembled the heads of missiles, filling them with powder and assembling the detonator.

Joe Havens, a Navy veteran, was too young to go with his older brothers to war but he remembers what it was like in Pleasant Valley during the war.

He remembers watching the air traffic overhead and the Army men getting out of their cars to deliver the news that a family member, neighbor or friend was missing in action, wounded or killed in action. In a 1999 interview, he said “We prayed and persevered. We prayed for strength and for our men to survive the terrible, yet unknown ordeals they were going through.”

This small community, like so many others, came together and gave what they could to support the troops and help win the war. Next week, I will share some of the heroic stories of the men from Pleasant Valley who have served our country in the military.

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