World War II City

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Meet America's World War II City

During World War II, Wilmington was called “The Defense Capital of the State” for several reasons. Wilmington’s largest employer, the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company constructed 243 cargo vessels. Strategic defense industries included fertilizer plants, pulpwood, creosote products, dairies, and concrete floating drydock manufacturing. Wilmington was the site of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad headquarters and a P-47 fighter plane training area.

The city and its surrounding area hosted training for all five military branches. The city’s population more than doubled with the influx of military personnel forcing everyone to cope with a strain on housing, schools, transportation, the food supply, medical and social services. Thousands of Wilmingtonians joined the fight as Navy frogmen, P-51 fighter aces, Tuskegee Airmen, submarine skippers, bomber pilots, Marine riflemen, Army artillerymen, physicians, nurses and volunteers.

New Hanover County tragically lost 248 men as a result of their courageous efforts to defend America. Two New Hanover High School graduates received the Congressional Medal of Honor: William D Halyburton Jr and Charles P Murray Jr. Numerous others received decorations for valor including Navy Crosses, Distinguished Service Crosses and Distinguished Flying Crosses.

An effort to nationally recognize the Wilmington area as the first American WWII City is one that former US Representative Mike McIntyre began with the help of Retired Navy Captain Wilbur Jones of the nonprofit World War II Wilmington Home Front Heritage Coalition.

Visit Our Museum

From 1941 to 1945, the USO hosted 35,000 uniformed visitors a week. The Hannah Block Historic USO lobby serves as a mini museum where WWII home front memorabilia and artifacts are displayed.