Building Index – Lowry’s Wooden Barracks

Lowry’s Wooden Barracks

The Temporary Buildings

The United States formally maintained a period of neutrality during the conflicts in Europe and Asia until 7 December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1939 the United States Army Air Corps maintained a peacetime total of 2,400 aircraft, with a force strength of only 200,000 enlisted men.

While still maintaining its neutrality, the United States once again adopted the process of conscription, commonly known as “The Draft,” as a means to increase its manpower strength as Germany was conquering France. President Roosevelt enacted an updated conscription law on 16 September 1940. The military ranks subsequently increased at an exponential rate as hundreds of thousands of draftees entered the service.

In June of 1941, six months after declaring war against the Axis powers, the U. S. Army Air Corps was assigned the new designation as “The Army Air Force” (AAF). The Army now had 3,305 aircraft in its inventory maintained with a manpower of a rather small force of only 9,078 officers and 143,563 enlisted men. Six months later the manpower numbers had risen to 22,524 officers and 274,579 enlisted men, all of whom had to be housed. Within five years the Army had built temporary housing for its soldiers…a total of approximately six million men by 1944.

The Army’s Quartermaster General, working with the Army Corps of Engineers, established five principles to guide the process of constructing new quarters for its men: 1) speed, 2) simplicity, 3) conservation of materials, 4) flexibility, and 5) safety. With these principles in mind, the construction divisions drew up standard building plans for simple temporary wood-frame structures. The buildings were made using inexpensive and prefabricated materials, and were constructed in assembly-line fashion. The standard plans were bundled into “construction packages” that could meet the needs of a 125-man company, complete with barracks (including central heating, interior showers, and latrines), mess halls, offices, recreation, and supply buildings. The Army did not implement any extra ornamental details or features that would differentiate the buildings from on another. On the outside, barracks looked just like the mess halls, the offices, and the storerooms.

The temporary barracks buildings were configured in either one or two-story versions. Their interiors were designed as open bays, employing both single and double bunks, a day room, a baggage storage area, showers, and toilet facilities. Mop storage racks were usually included outside the building.

A soldier’s personal space consisted of a bunk, a footlocker, and a space on the wall behind their bunks where they could hang their clothing. Items not fitting in this personal space were stored in their duffel bags in the barracks storage area. Footlocker contents were maintained in an obsessive-compulsive fashion…each item had its place, underwear and socks would be properly rolled and stored, shoeshine materials were impeccably lined up with other items allowed in their footlockers. Lockers failing inspection were subject to being overturned, with its contents dumped on the floor.

Bunk beds (cots) were an item of maintenance by their occupants as well. Stringent rules were in place demanding conformity by all. A bed not being able to pass the “bouncing quarter” test would fail inspection. A $0.25 piece would be flipped onto the center of the bed. If it didn’t bounce, the result of tightly tucked in blankets and sheets, it failed the test. A failed bunk might be tossed as well. We all learned how to make “hospital corners,” and made sure the top sheet was properly folded over the blanket that reached a limit providing room for the pillow.

Shoes were immaculately shined at all times. “Spit Shining” as a trade was learned by everyone. Black Kiwi shoe polish would be applied to the shoes using a cotton ball or dauber, judiciously rubbed into the leather, and set aflame with a match or lighter to melt the polish solidly into the shoe leather. Additional time would then be spent spitting on cotton balls used to buff the polish to a mirror-like finish. Shoes were carefully lined up under the bunks on display. Woe be to the soldier whose shoes were not shined or properly displayed!

GI Parties were not what they sounded like. The barracks floors were kept immaculately cleaned and polished…with students purchasing out of their own pockets copious amounts of Johnson’s Floor Wax to aid in that process! All occupants participated in these “parties” to ensure a clean barracks at all times. Occupants of a barracks deemed to be “dirty” by the inspectors could be restricted from off-post/base privileges, and even assigned extra duty such as grounds keeping, KP, etc. The availability of floor buffers was not always guaranteed…lending to a volunteer riding a blanket dragged across the floors to install a shine was a daily event.

GI showers were another event witnessed by only those barracks occupants. A soldier (or Airman) who had not learned the intricacies of maintaining their own bodies in a hygienic manner, i.e., showering on a regular basis, would eventually be invited to a GI Shower. A group of concerned individuals would escort the errant GI to the showers, lather him down using a strong soap, and using a stiff scrub brush would “scrape the dirt of the subjects’ body.”

Winter as experienced in the northern climes provided the greatest challenges in terms of providing adequate shelter from the elements. Snow would often blow around or under the exterior door and/or window frames, resulting in small snow drifts forming across the floor. Occupants were instructed to place newspaper pages between the bunk’s springs and mattress to provide additional protection from the cold. Still…it was better than living in a tent!

#1. Prior to completion of the Temporary Wooden Barracks & the Brick Barracks (Bldg. 349), men had been quartered in tents within the area known as “Tent City,” 29 Aug 1939 [Wings]
#2. View across the parade grounds with Chapel #1 (Building 27) seen in the top- left side of photo. Near the top of the photo you can see Permanent Party residence at center-right, and the wooden barracks area to the left. [Wings]
#3. Building 601, Rehabilitated Airman’s Barracks. An example of the Army Quartermaster’s and Engineer’s building plans for a two-story barracks, constructed across all military facilities during the 1940s. [Wings]
#4. Building 749, Tech School Student Barracks. [Wings]
#5. Unknown Building Number, Student Barracks. One can see the mops hanging on a rack by the main entrance, drying out from over-use, and the trash barrels out front waiting for pickup. The single-story structure behind and to the right was more than likely an office building. [Wings]
#6. Building 432, WAF Barracks, 1955. Sign in the lower side of building reads “OFF LIMITS TO MALE PERSONNEL.” These barracks utilized coal-fired heating systems. Two individuals would be responsible for maintaining the furnace fire, day and night. These individuals would be relieved of all other duties associated with their status as students. Believe barracks numbered in the 400’s were all WAF Barracks. [Wings]
#7. Building 433, WAF Barracks, 1959. [Wings]
#8. Outside mop and broom storage. Not shown: the mop bucket, often referred to in earlier times as the “slop-bucket.” By the time a student graduated from Tech School, they were well-versed in the art and science of sweeping, moping, and running a buffer in addition to their newly-acquired occupational skills.
#9. The bare necessities of a bunk (cot), and a student’s personal area which they were responsible for maintaining, neat and clean. Shoes stacked on the bed may have been placed there to get them out of the way of floor cleaning activities. Shoes typically lived underneath the cot, all lined up and inspection ready. Visible bunk components consist of the cot itself, a rather thin mattress, two blankets, a pair of sheets, a pillow case, and a pillow. A “dorm chief,” a student selected to perform in that capacity, usually had their own single bunk.
#10. Bunk assembled and in inspection order. Shoes shined and lined up, clean towel hanging on the exposed end of the bunk, laundry bag neatly tied and fashioned to hang on the opposite end of the bunk, hospital corners where the blanket folds over at the end of the bunk, blanket stretched tightly to pass the “bouncing quarter” test, clothes evenly spaced on hangers, preferably with the button-side of shirts and jackets facing to the left. Items on the top shelf must be orderly arranged.
#11. Slightly different barracks accommodations seen in this photo as is evidenced by the presence of lockers! Shoes are shown off the floor stacked on the bunk to make room for floor cleaning/polishing activities, and the dress hat is shown neatly parked on top of the pillows. The bunk in the forefront of this photo seems to have rather “ragged” hospital corners!

#12. This photo shows an airman’s personal area ready for inspection; footlocker properly lined up ostensibly with the other footlockers down the row, shoes polished and standing at attention under the bunk, towels properly arranged at the ends of the bunks facing away from the wall, laundry bags properly tied up and attached to the opposite ends of the bunks, items are neatly arranged on top of the shelf, shared with others, and the clothes are properly and equally spaced apart on the hanger rod. These students have been assigned to this school squadron long enough to have gained their first stripes, typically having served at least six months of trouble-free active duty.

[ Enlisted Promotions Made Simple ]

#13. An open-locker inspection was dreaded by many. The arrangement of locker contents followed rigid rules dictating how and where each item would be placed. Underwear and socks would be neatly rolled and properly displayed, shoe shine and shaving equipment were similarly stowed. The contents and their arrangements in both the top and bottom sections of each footlocker followed predefined protocols. Items not properly displayed would earn the owner’s a “gig.” In extreme cases, footlockers were turned upside down dumping the contents on the floor by the inspector.