Saturday January 18th will be the 78th anniversary of the dedication ceremony and opening of our historic WW II USO/Community Center. This building is one of four Type A USOs that are known to be in existence. This village gem was first started in October of 1941 and took 90 days to complete at a cost of approximately $65,860. It was the first USO that was specifically built to serve not only our service men and women, but also civil defense workers at Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant (RVAAP). Over 500 enthusiastic residents attended this event and were greeted and addressed by a personal letter from First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.
At the building’s Dedication Ceremony, Newton Falls Mayor W. Elmo Bailey delivered the following Welcome Address:
“We are living today in a world filled with strange and astonishing events. These conditions come about because a few individuals have risen to power, men who can be classed as the hounds of death and destruction, who want to satisfy their lust and greed for power. One of the greatest preparedness programs in the history of our democracy is under way and this building was built to play a part in this program. While we rejoice that we today are dedicating it, in a sense we should not be too happy for if it were not necessary to build buildings such as these, it would not be necessary to send our boys to war to be shot down. We are all true-blooded Americans and are united in our desire to defend the democracy we hold dear. We here in Newton Falls want to fulfill our duties in this great defense effort so as to bring credit to ourselves, our community and our own United States” (The Newton Falls Herald, front page, January 23, 1942)
In very short order after the opening of the Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant (RVAAP), thousands of wartime production workers poured into Newton Falls and surrounding areas to operate this massive munition production facility, illustrating Ohio's important contributions to winning World War II. From 1942 to 1945, workers at the RVAAP produced more ordinance materials for the war effort than at any other plant in the United States.
The complex that produced artillery and mortar shells in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It closed in 1972. The arsenal was a major facility with 1,200 buildings. It took 16,000 workers to build the complex and it employed up to 15,000 at its peak during World War II. It drew workers from Akron to the west and from Warren to the east.
In World War II, the plant operated 12 production lines and built more than 36 million bombs and shells, 420 million other munitions and 571,000 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. More than 700 large bunkers were located on the complex to store explosives.
It was constructed for the primary purpose of loading medium and major caliber artillery ammunition, bombe, mines, fuses and booster, primers, percussion elements, and the storage of finished ammunition and ammunition components.
(The History of the Ravenna Arsenal by Ralph A. Pfingsten)
Our beloved Community Center, originally a U.S.O. Center, is of enormous historical and local significance. “It is one of very few material manifestations of its kind left that captures a critically important period in American history, the beginning of WWII and the colossal war support effort on the domestic home front.” It was the very FIRST U.S.O. Center in the nation to be designed to support civil defense workers and was also the very FIRST in the nation to remain open and provide 24/7 service through its “Dawn Patrol” program. In addition to this unique service, the Newton Falls U.S.O. Center also provided recreational opportunities, childcare, crafts, indoor picnics, dances, photography and, of course, free coffee and donuts.