In March 1943 with World War II raging, the Mississippi Civilian Defense Council established the Forrest County Citizens Service Corps office in Hattiesburg at City Hall.
The goal of the CSC was the “furtherance of community services directed to the winning of the war.” They would help recruit and educate volunteers in various homefront efforts and issues including USO helpers, child welfare, housing, war programs, public health and nutrition, education, recreational services and more.
Hattiesburg was divided up into zones with zone leaders for each area.
It was then further divided up into blocks with block leaders to oversee their particular block, making sure everyone in their area is taken care of and is helping with the war effort on the homefront if they chose to do so.
Some of the activities of block leaders included distribution of gardening, canning and nutrition pamphlets; collecting discarded clothing to send to the military for distribution overseas as well as rags for military use; house-to-house canvassing for a war bond drive; distribution of information on air raids and salvage collections; and many other activities.
The CSC also supported a victory garden program.
The chairman of the victory garden program, T. W. Patten, reported in March 1943 that 95% of the citizens of the surrounding rural area had already begun planting their victory gardens, likely an activity they would have done anyway. He also reported that “city dwellers” still had a way to go on their victory gardens. The biggest issue for them, according to Patten, was the lack of plow hands for large gardens.
Victory gardens were a way for civilians to contribute to the war effort by leaving more produce for less cost for the military to feed soldiers and sailors.
It was also a boost for civilian morale as it helped their families as well as the war effort.
In Hattiesburg, Sears, Roebuck and Co. donated tomato plants for local girls to plant. One young man, 11-year-old Parham Turner, began his first garden in the summer of 1942 at his home on Miller Street, growing butter beans, peas, corn, tomatoes and okra. Some of the okra was even featured in the Hattiesburg American when two pods grew together into a “V.” Similar stories can be found over and over again from World War II-era Hattiesburg.
However, there is one particular victory garden project that literally went many extra miles to boost morale on the homefront, in the Pacific and around the world.
Dr. James T. Leggett, a retired Methodist preacher, planted a victory garden of corn, beans, okra, pepper and peas at his home at 403 West 4th Street.
Dr. Leggett’s wife, Josie, came up with a plan to use the victory garden for more than just food when she received a letter from her son, Cpl. Wesley F. Leggett, who was serving in the 7th Air Force in the Pacific as a radar operator and gunner on a B-24 Liberator. Cpl. Leggett wrote of his desire to be home and wistfully noted, “…if I could just put my foot on Mississippi soil.”
Josie then went out to her husband’s victory garden and placed a spoonful of Hattiesburg soil in a sachet-type bag she had made using red, white and blue ribbon.
She called the bags “For This We Fight” bags, and she sent them to her son in the Marshall Islands. They were a hit.
As the project continued, Josie sent over a hundred bags overseas. Cpl. Leggett gave some of them to bomber crews who supposedly attached them to bombs and dropped them all over the islands of the Pacific.
Some were placed at the foot of the flag at Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Others were placed on the graves of soldiers at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and at other military cemeteries.
Military leadership also heard about the bags.
Josie wrote to Adm. Nimitz asking if a bag could be emptied under the U.S. flag flying on the Marshall Islands and another placed in the foundation of the government building being built on Kwajalein Atoll. Nimitz complied.
Bags were also sent to Gen. MacArthur, who said he was “planting little bags of America everywhere he goes,” including leaving some to be placed at the base of flag poles on Corregidor Island and in Manila.
Even Gen. Mark Clark received several bags in Italy, and he asked for more at the request of his Women’s Army Corps secretary who happened to be from Lucedale.
While most of the bags did come from Hattiesburg, Josie wrote to the governors of all 48 states, and they sent her soil to be sent overseas. There were eight governors who did not respond, so she used contacts at Camp Shelby to obtain soil from the remaining states.
After the war, Cpl. Leggett settled in Biloxi with his new wife and became an electronics instructor at Keesler Air Force Base.
Josie reported to the Hattiesburg American that she was going to make “For This We Fight” bags for soldiers in the Korean War, but it is unclear whether they were ever sent.
Dr. Leggett passed away in 1949.
However, pieces of Hattiesburg will forever remain in dust throughout the Pacific and around the world.
(Sources used for this article were various newspaper articles as well as the Leggett “For This We Fight” Collection on the National World War II Museum website. For additional information on the Leggetts and the bags, visit the museum’s article on the topic, which was written by Kim Guise.)
Lisa Foster is a historian from the Friendly City. Send her an email at email@example.com.